Putin orders ‘humanitarian pauses’ in besieged Syrian rebel area

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Russian president Vladimir Putin has ordered daily “humanitarian pauses” in the besieged rebel-held eastern Ghouta in Syria.

Defence minister Sergei Shoigu said the ceasefire will be arranged for the suburb of the capital Damascus between 9am and 2pm every day, starting on Tuesday.

He also said Russia will help set an evacuation route for civilians in the area.

The announcement comes two days after the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire across Syria, which excludes fighting with the Islamic State group and al-Qaida-linked fighters.

Eastern Ghouta has been under intensive bombardment by government forces, backed by Russia, for weeks. At least 10 people were killed on Monday as air strikes and artillery barrages resumed, according to local activists.

The move came after Syrian forces launched a ground offensive on the rebel-held eastern Damascus suburb, as UN chief Antonio Gutteres denounced the violence in the embattled region, which he described as “hell on Earth”.

Following a period of relative calm in the wake of the ceasefire, fresh violence left 28 people in the area dead as air strikes and bombardments continued on Sunday and Monday, activists said.

Members of the United Nations Security Council approved the ceasefire at the weekend (AP)
Members of the United Nations Security Council approved the ceasefire at the weekend (AP)

At the Geneva gathering, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein echoed calls for a “full implementation” of the truce.

He also decried “seven years of failure to stop the violence, seven years of unremitting and frightful mass killing” in Syria.

In Syria, state TV broadcast live footage showing the town of Harasta, in the Damascus suburbs, being pounded by air strikes and artillery. Troops are said to be targeting al-Qaida-linked fighters in the area in an apparent move to show that the army is not violating the ceasefire.

Monday’s fighting was mostly concentrated in an area known as Harasta Farms, on the edge of town.

The opposition’s Syrian Civil Defence, also known as White Helmets, said 13 died in an air strike on Douma, and one person was killed in Harasta on Monday morning. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 22 on Monday, including 21 in the eastern suburb of Douma.

Syrian state media said nearly 50 shells fired by rebels hit the capital, wounding at least one person.

Fourteen people killed in eastern Ghouta on Sunday included an infant who was allegedly killed in a poison gas attack on the town of Sheifouniyeh.

In northern Syria, Turkish police and paramilitary special forces crossed the border into a Syrian Kurdish-held enclave, signalling preparations for a possible offensive to capture the enclave’s main city, Afrin.

In a separate strand to the violence in Syria, Turkey launched an incursion into Afrin on January 20 to drive out a US-backed Syrian Kurdish militia it considers to be a terrorist group, allied with its own Kurdish insurgents fighting within Turkey’s borders.

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