Clashes rock edge of Ghouta despite ‘truce’

Fresh deaths at hands of regime bring civilian death toll since February 18 to 590

A fighter with the Army of Islam rebel group firing artillery during clashes with government forces in the southern province of Daraa, Syria.

BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces clashed Wednesday with rebels on the outskirts of Eastern Ghouta despite a “humanitarian pause” announced by Russia and now in its second day, a monitor said. No civilians have used the exit corridor manned by regime and Russian forces to leave while ground battles were reported.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting was fierce and broke out overnight in the rebel-held enclave on the eastern outskirts of the capital Damascus.

Early Wednesday, before the daily “humanitarian pause” took effect again, Syrian forces also pounded Eastern Ghouta with air strikes and artillery fire, Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman told AFP.

He said regime forces took advantage of the “intensive bombardment and the clashes on the edge of Eastern Ghouta to make a limited advance in the Hosh Al Zawahira and Shaifuniyeh districts”.

On Monday Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a five-hour daily “humanitarian pause” from 0700 GMT to allow aid deliveries to the battered enclave and the evacuation of residents.

It came after a nine-day campaign during which Russian-backed Syrian regime forces bombarded Eastern Ghouta, killing more than 550 civilians in one of the bloodiest episodes of the country’s seven-year war.

The Observatory said air strikes and artillery fire on the enclave stopped just before the “pause” kicked in again Wednesday, but on the ground the clashes continued around Hosh Al Zawahira and Shaifuniyeh.

The bodies of six people were pulled out of the rubble across the enclave on Wednesday, bringing the total number of civilians killed there since February 18 to 590, the Observatory said.

Almost a quarter of those killed are children.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday said Syria’s rebels were responsible for ensuring that the “pause” takes hold.

The UN Security Council was due to meet Wednesday afternoon to discuss the humanitarian situation and hear from UN aid chief Mark Lowcock.



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