Strikes continue in Ghouta despite Russian truce

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REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

BEIRUT/GENEVA (Reuters) – Syrian government warplanes struck the eastern Ghouta region yesterday and Damascus accused rebels of shelling a safe route out, despite a Russian call for a five-hour truce that failed to halt one of the most devastating campaigns of the war.

Two residents in the region told Reuters warplanes and helicopters were still launching strikes despite the Russian truce. Air strikes were also reported by a war monitoring group, although a Syrian military source denied them.

The United Nations said ongoing combat had made it impossible to bring in aid or rescue the wounded.

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

Hundreds of people have died during 10 days of government bombardment of the eastern Ghouta, an 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.

Russia declared Tuesday’s unilateral five-hour truce to open what it describes as a humanitarian corridor to evacuate wounded and let civilians escape from the besieged rebel-held enclave. On Tuesday its military said it would guarantee the safety of any civilians who wished to leave.

Residents in several towns in the district described a brief pause in fighting, but said bombardment swiftly resumed. In the town of Hammouriyeh a man who identified himself by his first name Mahmoud told Reuters helicopters and warplanes were in the sky and conducting strikes.

Siraj Mahmoud, a spokesman for the Civil Defence rescue service, which is funded by Western governments and operates in rebel areas, said artillery and air strikes had hit the region.

A U.N. Security Council resolution passed on Saturday called for a 30-day ceasefire across the entire country, but it did not specify when it should come into effect. It also excludes some militant groups, which Syria’s allies say are among the rebel fighters in eastern Ghouta.

Syrian state media and Russian officials accused the rebels of shelling the evacuation corridor to stop civilians leaving eastern Ghouta, which rebel groups denied.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said helicopters and warplanes had struck four towns and artillery shelling killed one person.

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