Top UN aid official appeals for pause

09 March, 2018, 10:24 | Author: Orlando Hughes
  • The UN human rights chief accused the Syrian government of orchestrating an

A top United Nations aid official appealed to the Syrian government and its Russian backers for a cessation of hostilities in eastern Ghouta on Thursday when a second convoy with desperately needed aid was postponed after government forces split the enclave in two, creating an evolving, unpredictable situation on the ground.

Rebels, who accuse the government of "scorched earth" tactics, said they were deploying more guerrilla-style ambushes in lost territory, trying to stop further advances.

Eastern Ghouta has been under control of armed opposition groups since 2013 - two years into a popular uprising in Syria calling for the removal of Assad.

But Wael Alwan, the spokesman for Failaq al-Rahman, one of the main rebel groups in eastern Ghouta, denied that the territory had been cut in half.

"I'm very anxious for a repeat of very numerous bad things we saw in the final days of the battle of Aleppo but to some extent this is worse", he says.

Linda Tom, spokesperson for the UN's humanitarian coordination office OCHA in Syria, said the aid would aim to reach 70,000 people in Douma and would include medical supplies not allowed in Monday's delivery.

Eastern Ghouta has grabbed headlines recently amid a government resolve to recapture that sprawling area while at the same time allowing civilians to leave as around 400,000 people still live in that rebel-held enclave.

As Syrian government forces intensify their push to regain control over the enclave, aided by Russia's aerial bombing campaign, more than 900 people have been killed over the past three weeks.

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The aid trucks were meant to bring relief to war-weary civilians living under government siege for five years and now facing a deadly Russian-backed assault.

Until this week, the Syrian army - notably the elite Republican Guards and "Tiger" forces - had provided the ground units involved in the offensive in eastern Ghouta. There was no immediate confirmation of this from the rebels or Syrian government.

The agency said ground clashes have escalated and include Syrian and Russian officers.

The Syrian regime is also accused of carrying out chemical attacks on Eastern Ghouta and elsewhere.

Monitoring groups have reported scores killed daily this week as activists reported "apocalyptic" scenes in the streets of Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus. A UN-led investigation supported Britain's resolution, saying that there are indications that some recent deaths in Ghouta were due to the use of chemical weapons, with two children among victims.

Government troops in military vehicles were seen on Wednesday patrolling Al-Mohammadiyeh, an agricultural zone in the southern part of Ghouta recently retaken by the regime.

But with bombardment continuing, the joint convoy between the United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Syrian Arab Red Crescent could not go through.

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