Russian and Syrian warplanes continued hammering the devastated Syrian rebel enclave of eastern Ghouta on Monday, despite the U.N. unanimously calling for a ceasefire “without delay.” The heightened assault, which began a little over a week ago, prolongs one of the bloodiest episodes of Syria’s seven-year civil war.
At least 550 people have been killed in the past eight days inside the suburb of the Syrian capital of Damascus, which is home to some 400,000 people, according the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war-monitor group based in the U.K. That death toll includes 24 people killed during the 24 hours after the U.N.’s call for a ceasefire on Saturday.
The assault by the Syrian government, led by Bashar Assad, and its top foreign ally, Russia, has led to some of the deadliest violence since the country’s civil war began. Over 250 were killed in the first 48 hours, marking the highest two-day death toll in the conflict since a 2013 chemical weapons attack in the same region, according to the Observatory. Amnesty International has said that the bombings amount to “war crimes,” and U.N. Secretary General António Guterres implored combatants over the weekend to “stop this hell on earth.”
Just minutes after the U.N. Security Council demanded a 30-day ceasefire for the delivery of aid, warplanes were already flying over the region, local witnesses told Reuters. Despite the spiraling violence, no major gains on the ground have been reported.
By Monday, Russia announced a daily five-hour break in the bombardment, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., set to begin Tuesday. But Britain’s deputy ambassador to the U.N. Jonathan Allen said the daily pause doesn’t mean much. "That is not compliance. That is not implementation of the resolution passed on Saturday, but it does show that it can be implemented," he told reporters.
The daily pause will coincide with the opening of a humanitarian corridor aimed at allowing civilians to leave, according to a report in Russia’s state-run Tass news agency. But the move won’t be enough to allow for aid convoys to enter the devastated region to relieve its widening humanitarian catastrophe, an aid worker based in Damascus told VICE News.
READ: "Hell on earth": The U.N. calls for ceasefire in besieged eastern Ghouta
The sheer complexity of the Syrian conflict — in which multiple rebel groups and foreign militaries are clashing together in spiraling chaos — is blocking humanitarian outreach efforts due to the difficulty of securing a ceasefire from all the various groups involved, she said. The International Committee of the Red Cross, for example, hasn’t had direct on-the-ground access to eastern Ghouta since November 2017.
“We cannot do our work,” Ingy Sedky, a spokeswoman for the committee, told VICE News. “The issue is that we don’t have the consent of all the parties that are fighting on the ground in Syria or eastern Ghouta. We cannot send over a convoy in such a situation.”
In addition to violations of the ceasefire, fresh reports have also circulated in recent days about the continued use of chlorine gas as a chemical weapon, although Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the allegations a “hoax.”
The Syrian American Medical Society tweeted on Sunday that 16 patients were suffering from exposure to chemical compounds, which the group said marked the 197th time chemical weapons have been used in Syria since 2011 and the seventh case so far in 2018.
Cover image: Syrians inspect the debris of buildings destroyed by Syrian forces' missile strikes in Al Ghouta East, in Duma, Syria, 22 February 2018. (Samer Bouidani/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)