Violence rages in Syria as UN chief demands an end to ‘hell on Earth’

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Syrian forces have launched a ground offensive on a rebel-held eastern Damascus suburb despite a UN Security Council resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire across the country.

The move came as UN chief Antonio Guterres denounced the violence in the embattled region, describing it as “hell on Earth”.

The violence bodes ill for the resolution adopted over the weekend at the United Nations.

There had been a relative calm in the besieged area in the immediate aftermath of the resolution, which was unanimously approved on Saturday by the 15-member council.

It demands a 30-day truce in all of Syria, but excludes fighting with the Islamic State group and al-Qaida-linked fighters.

However, violence has since picked up again with 14 people killed on Sunday in air strikes and the bombardment of eastern Ghouta, and another 10 people killed on Monday, activists said.

Meanwhile, Syrian state media and a monitoring group said an air strike by the US-led coalition on an area held by the Islamic State group in the country’s east killed more than two dozen people.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 25 people, including seven children and six women, were killed in the area of Dahra Allouni in the province of Deir el-Zour, which borders Iraq.

Syrian state news agency Sana said 29 people were killed and dozens wounded on Sunday’s air strike.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to the warring sides to abide by the ceasefire. Speaking at the start of a session of the UN-backed Human Rights Council, the comments were his first remarks to the UN body since the resolution was adopted.

“Eastern Ghouta cannot wait,” Mr Guterres said. “It is high time to stop this hell on Earth.”

Mr Guterres said he welcomed the resolution but added that council resolutions “are only meaningful if they are effectively implemented”.

He added that he expects the “resolution to be immediately implemented and sustained” and also called for safe, unimpeded and sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and services, as well as evacuations of the sick and wounded.

At the Geneva gathering, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein echoed calls for a “full implementation” of the truce, but added “we have every reason to remain cautious” about the ceasefire as air strikes continue on Damascus suburbs.

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 barrages. The TV said troops were targeting al-Qaida-linked fighter in the area in an apparent move to show that the army is not violating the ceasefire.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the opposition’s Syrian Civil Defence, also known as White Helmets, said nine people died in an air strike shortly after midnight in the suburb of Douma and one person was killed in Harasta on Monday morning.

The new deaths bring to 24 the two-day death toll in eastern Ghouta. On Sunday, 14 people were killed, including an infant who was allegedly killed in a poison gas attack on the town of Sheifouniyeh.

Meanwhile, Turkish officials said police and paramilitary special forces have 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 is battling a US-backed Syrian Kurdish militia it considers to be a terrorist group.

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