Despite a ceasefire resolution passed by the UN Security Council on February 24, Syrian government and Russian airstrikes have continued to rain on a rebel-held enclave in the Ghouta region, east of the capital of Damascus. About 400,000 Syrian civilians currently live in this district, reports The New York Times.
Although the bombardments continue at a far lower level than in the days before the resolution, hundreds have died in a week of ongoing shelling from the Assad regime. “Shelling is calmer than before, it’s true, but there is still shelling,” said Mohammad Adel, a Ghouta local who has kept outside journalists informed about events. On Sunday, the day after the resolution was unanimously passed, both France and Germany called on Russia to pressure the Syrian government to adhere to the ceasefire, reports the BBC.
Although Russia voted in favor of the 30-day cease fire last weekend, which demands an immediate break in the siege to allow the access of medical teams and humanitarian deliveries, it has failed to implement it in the following week. Instead, Moscow stated that it is operating with Syrian forces to arrange daily five-hour truces from 9a.m. to 2p.m. to allow civilians along with the sick and wounded to evacuate Eastern Ghouta by means of a humanitarian corridor, reports the Wall Street Journal.
The UN acknowledged that fighting was ongoing despite Moscow’s statement, with residents also expressing their doubts about the plan. Locals said that no civilians fled through the planned evacuation route. “It is 11:30 a.m. and the Russian truce should have started, but all kinds of bombs are still falling on us,” said resident and activist Bilal Saleh. In addition, fighting was also reported between pro-government and rebel forces in the Wafideen checkpoint on the northern side of the district, the supposed passageway for refugees and aid, reports the New York Times.
Subsequently, Russia denied that it continued any hostilities during the pause, blaming rebel strikes for preventing the evacuation of civilians. General Viktor Pankov told Russian news agency Interfax, “currently there is intensive fire from the militants and not a single civilian has left.” Sana, Syria’s state news agency, followed up by saying that “terrorist groups targeted five missiles at the designated passage for the exit of civilians to prevent them from leaving and continue to use them as human shields.”
The strikes have primarily targeted the outskirts of Douma, the main town in Eastern Ghouta, reports the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). The observatory also reported many casualties on both rebel and regime sides after government forces continued their advance into the area.
The BBC also reports that many different factions constitute the anti-Assad rebels in Ghouta, one of which is the Nusra Front. Formerly aligned with Al-Qaeda, the group heads an alliance of said factions under the larger name of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Importantly, the Syrian government and Moscow have stated that its efforts to recapture Eastern Ghouta are a direct result of the presence of HTS there.