Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the implementation of a daily ceasefire in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta, starting on Tuesday, according to Russian news agencies.
“On the instructions of the Russian president, with the goal of avoiding civilian casualties in Eastern Ghouta, from February 27 — tomorrow — from 9.00 to 14.00 there will be a humanitarian pause,” Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted as saying.
The announcement came amid growing demands for the implementation of a UN Security Council vote for a 30-day ceasefire to enable humanitarian aid to reach the besieged Syrian enclave.
Despite Saturday’s vote at the UN, bombardments continued over the weekend in Eastern Ghouta, according to witnesses.
But “we still don’t have the green light to go inside and bring desperately needed food and medical supplies, and to do medical evacuations,” UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, Panos Moumtzis, told FRANCE 24 no Sunday.
The UN resolution had raised hopes of stemming the bloodshed but it remains unclear when or how broadly the ceasefire could be implemented.
Although the cease-fire applies to all areas in Syria: “It’s quite complicated, because it requires multiple parties and entities to agree to put down their arms and let humanitarian assistance in,” said Moumtzis.
“We are calling upon all the parties in Syria but also governments of influence to make sure that the Security Council resolution is applied right now,” he said. “We cannot wait another day to go. Every day that goes by, more lives are lost.”
Russia is a key ally of Assad‘s regime and in a phone call on Sunday German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron urged Putin to use his influence.
They called on Russia “to exercise maximum pressure on the Syrian regime to achieve an immediate suspension of air raids and fighting”, Merkel’s office said in a statement.
Pope Francis also joined international calls for a ceasefire, saying in his Sunday Angelus prayers: “All this is inhuman. One cannot fight evil with another evil.”
In Douma, the main town in Eastern Ghouta, fresh air raids and artillery strikes could be heard on Sunday, an AFP correspondent in the town said.
Islamic State (IS) group and al Qaeda not included
Eastern Ghouta, home to some 400,000 people, is surrounded by government-controlled territory and its residents are unwilling or unable to flee.
The two main rebel groups controlling the enclave — Jaish al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman — welcomed the Security Council demand, but vowed to fight back in case of renewed attacks.
Jaish al-Islam said it was “committed to protecting humanitarian convoys” but warned it would “immediately respond to any violation”.
UN diplomats say Saturday’s Security Council resolution was watered down to ensure it was not vetoed by Russia, which has provided diplomatic and military support to Assad’s regime.
Language specifying that the ceasefire would start 72 hours after adoption was scrapped and the term “immediate” was dropped in reference to aid deliveries and evacuations.
In another concession, the ceasefire would not apply to operations against the Islamic State group or al Qaeda, along with “individuals, groups, undertakings and entities” associated with the terror groups.
A total of more than 340,000 people have been killed and millions driven from their homes in Syria’s war, which next month enters its eighth year with no diplomatic solution in sight.