Attacks continue despite Russian ‘truce’ in Syria: UN


BEIRUT/GENEVA (Reuters) – Fighting raged on in the eastern Ghouta district of Syria on Tuesday, the United Nations said, despite a five-hour ceasefire called by President Bashar al-Assad’s ally Russia.

“We have reports this morning there is continuous fighting in eastern Ghouta,” UN humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke told a briefing in Geneva. “Clearly the situation on the ground is not such that convoys can go in or medical evacuations can go out.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said helicopters dropped two bombs on one town in the enclave and a warplane struck another town during the truce. A Syrian military source denied that there had been air strikes. Reuters was not immediately able to verify either report.

Hundreds of people have died during 10 days of government bombardment of the eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held area of towns and farms on the outskirts of Damascus. The assault has been among the most devastating air campaigns of a war now entering its eighth year.

A U.N. Security Council resolution passed on Saturday called for a 30-day ceasefire across the entire country, but this excludes some militant groups which Damascus says its forces have been battling in eastern Ghouta.

“It is a question life and death – if ever there was a question of life and death – we need a 30-day cessation of hostilities in Syria as the Security Council demands,” said Laerke, spokesman of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA).

Russia had called Tuesday’s five-hour truce in the enclave to allow a safe route for wounded to be evacuated and civilians to escape. Moscow and Damascus accuse rebels of attacking this humanitarian corridor to prevent civilians from leaving. Rebels deny this.

Eastern Ghouta had initially been mostly calm after the ceasefire took effect at 9 a.m. (0700 GMT), the Observatory and residents said, though state television reported that insurgents had shelled an evacuation route.

Eastern Ghouta, where the U.N. says around 400,000 people live, is a major target for Assad, whose forces have clawed back numerous areas with military backing from Russia and Iran.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Tom Perry, Ellen Francis, Dahlia Nehme and Angus McDowall; Editing by Peter Graff)

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