Ghouta assault continues despite UN ceasefire call

BEIRUT: Iran said pro-Damascus forces would press ahead with attacks on an insurgent enclave near the Syrian capital, as ground fighting raged on there following a UN resolution demanding a 30-day truce across the country.
Rebels said they clashed with pro-government forces in the early hours of Sunday, as rescuers and residents said warplanes struck some towns in the Eastern Ghouta enclave.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said air strikes and shelling killed seven people and injured 31 in the eastern Damascus suburbs. The UK-based monitoring group said Sunday’s bombing was less intense than attacks over the past week.
There was no immediate comment from the Syrian military.
The leaders of Germany and France urged Russia on Sunday to exert “maximum pressure” on Syria for an “immediate” implementation of a UN ceasefire in the war-ravaged country, Berlin said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron stressed in a telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin “that it is crucial that the (UN) resolution be implemented quickly and comprehensively,” Merkel’s office said in a statement.
“They call on Russia in this context to exercise maximum pressure on the Syrian regime to achieve an immediate suspension of air raids and fighting.”
The statement said Merkel, Macron and Putin had all welcomed the UN resolution on an at least 30-day ceasefire “particularly to allow humanitarian aid into and evacuations out of the war zone”.
Merkel and Macron stressed that a ceasefire could be “the basis to advance efforts toward a political solution in the context of the UN-led Geneva peace process”.
“Germany and France continue to be willing to work with Russia and other international partners toward this goal,” Merkel’s office added.
Iranian General Mohammad Baqeri said Tehran and Damascus would respect the UN resolution.
But the Iranian military chief of staff also said the truce did not cover parts of the Damascus suburbs “held by the terrorists”, the Tasnim news agency.
Several ceasefires have unravelled quickly during the seven-year war in Syria, where Assad’s military has gained the upper hand with the help of Iran and Russia.
The UN resolution on Saturday followed seven straight days of bombing by pro-government forces on eastern Ghouta, in one of the bloodiest offensives of the war.
The Security Council voted unanimously to demand the truce to allow for aid access and medical evacuations. Yet while Moscow supported adopting the resolution, Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia cast doubt on its feasibility.
The resolution does not cover militants from the IS, Al Qaeda, and the Nusra Front.
Baqeri said Iran and Syria would adhere to it. But “parts of the suburbs of Damascus, which are held by the terrorists, are not covered by the ceasefire and clean-up (operations) will continue there,” Tasnim quoted him as saying.
The latest escalation by Damascus and its allies has killed more than 500 people in the enclave over the last week, the Observatory says. The dead included more than 120 children.
The Syrian government and Russia deny hitting civilians. Moscow and Damascus have said they seek to stop mortar attacks by militants injuring dozens in the capital.
The United Nations says nearly 400,000 people live in eastern Ghouta, a pocket of towns and farms under government siege since 2013. It is the only big rebel bastion left near the capital.
Pope Francis described Syria as “martyred” on Sunday, calling for aid access and an immediate end to violence. “All this is inhuman,” Francis told tens of thousands of people in St Peter’s Square for his weekly blessing.
— Reuters