UN Aid Chief: Syria Cease-Fire Yet to Be Implemented

AFP reporters saw no movement at the Wafideen checkpoint through which would-be evacuees were told to exit the Eastern Ghouta enclave that the government lost in 2012 and has besieged nearly ever since.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that rebels in Syria's Eastern Ghouta were responsible for ensuring that a "humanitarian pause" in the area brings relief for devastated civilians.

The air strikes and clashes that killed 600 civilians in 10 days have reduced since the Kremlin announced five-hour halts in the bombardment.

In a terse assessment, United Nations humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock responded with a simple "No" almost a dozen times to council questions about whether the resolution had been implemented.

Lowcock said trucks loaded with supplies have been poised to go to 10 locations since Saturday - but there has been no access for humanitarian convoys, nor authorisation by the regime to go into the besieged areas. But no humanitarian aid has gone in and no civilians have left since the daily pause began Tuesday.

"When will your resolution be implemented?" he asked. "More bombing. More fighting".

"The people of Eastern Ghouta mock the news of exit corridors - they did not believe it for a second because they have lost all confidence in the regime's credibility - particularly because the shelling has not stopped, and neither the Russians nor the regime have expressed any seriousness in keeping civilians out of the war", Aboud said.

The Syrian regime has accused the Islamist and jihadist groups inside Ghouta of sabotaging the initiative by shelling the designated humanitarian corridors to hold civilians as human shields.

"Medical and other essential services are absent and access for humanitarian workers to the city remains precariously limited because the conditions are so unsafe", Lowcock said.

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"This is cynical, callous and in flagrant defiance of the demands of [Resolution] 2401", said USA envoy Kelley Currie.

Nebenzia accused council members of misinterpreting the resolution, saying pauses must be preceded by an agreement of the parties on the ground for de-escalation.

Syrian children fill plastic containers at a water pump in Arbin in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta on February 25, 2018.

Moscow, which says the rebel groups based in eastern Ghouta are terrorists and not covered by the United Nations resolution, said they had stopped people leaving by attacking a safe route out of the enclave.

Representatives of Jaish al-Islam, Failaq al-Rahman and Ahrar al-Sham also agreed to expel, within 15 days of the truce going into effect, elements of banned groups Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, the Nusra Front and al-Qaida who have taken refuge in eastern Ghouta.

He insisted the five-hour daily pauses would be fruitful, "if the bandits who control East Ghouta so allow". The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.

Several council members criticized the Russian proposal.

Both Russia and Syria charge that the region, under siege for the past three years, is occupied by "terrorists" and attacks have continued.

"We are supportive of the cease-fire, the cessation of hostilities with some conditions", he told reporters later.

  • Sonia Alvarado