Airstrikes on Syria’s Ghouta enclave continue despite UN ceasefire deal

The UN’s ceasefire in Syria’s rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta was cast into doubt less than 24 hours after the Security Council voted to uphold it, as residents woke to regime airstrikes and Iran vowed to carry on fighting in areas it deems held by terrorists. 

Iranian General Mohammad Baqeri said both Tehran and Damascus would respect the 30-day ceasefire, but he also said the truce did not cover parts of the Damascus suburbs “held by terrorists”.

“Clean-up [operations] will continue there," he said.

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his allies have long used the term “terrorist” as a catch-all for those on the receiving end of airstrikes, barrel bombs and shelling.

Syrians rescue a child following a reported regime air strike in the rebel-held town of Hamouria, in Eastern Ghouta Credit:
ABDULMONAM EASSA/AFP/Getty Images

While Sunday was calmer than the days preceding it, the Syrian Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets, said six people died in shelling on Sunday, while another watchdog put the death toll at eight. 

Following days holed up in dark basements, some locals said they crept outside for the first time, only to be sent scrambling for cover at the sound of warplanes, rockets and shelling.

On Saturday, after intense diplomatic wrangling, the Security Council adopted a resolution calling for the ceasefire in Syria "without delay", to allow for aid deliveries and medical evacuations. 

In Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus just 15km east of Mr Assad’s palace, more than 500 people were killed in six days of bombardment before Saturday’s vote. 

The area is the last bastion for anti-government militants in central Syria, and has been the site of asymmetric battles as Syrian government forces, aided by Iranian militias and Russian air power, have pounded the densely populated area.

But it is unclear if this will come to pass, even with the unanimous adoption of the resolution at the Security Council on Saturday.

On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, both long-time advocates of a ceasefire, spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin reported that the call served to highlight the importance of common efforts to implement a ceasefire.

But a German government spokesman said the call was an opportunity to urge Mr Putin to put “maximum” pressure on the Syrian government to stop fighting in the enclave.

Members of the United Nations Security Council vote for ceasefire to Syrian bombing in eastern Ghouta, at the United Nations headquarters in New YorkCredit:
REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Russia’s cooperation in enforcing the ceasefire will be crucial, and has already been called into question.

The Russian negotiating team at the UN drew international ire after it delayed the vote by a day while it sought to water down the wording and resist a specific date being set for the ceasefire to start.

An earlier draft stipulated a 72-hour lead time, but the text adopted on Saturday does not.

Russia has called on the anti-government fighters inside Eastern Ghouta, many affiliated with the hard-line Army of Islam group, to adhere to the ceasefire.

A Syrian man wounded in air strikes receives treatment at a make-shift hospital in Eastern Ghouta Credit:
AMER ALMOHIBANY/AFP/Getty Images

“The bombing goes on just hours after the Security Council resolution was passed, and yet again children are back in their underground basements trying to shelter from the violence," said Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria Response Director.

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"If the negotiations in New York are to mean anything at all to children in Eastern Ghouta, the bombing must end now and vital food and medical supplies must urgently be allowed in."

Saturday’s resolution specifies “weekly humanitarian aid deliveries and medical evacuations of the critically sick and wounded,” but there has yet been no word on when these will be.

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