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Kuwaiti aid reaches Ghouta as Russia calls for daily truce

AL-SHIFUNIYAH, Syria: Syrian children receive treatment for a suspected chemical attack at a makeshift clinic in this rebel-held village in the Eastern Ghouta region on Sunday. – AFP

DOUMA, Syria: Russia called a daily “humanitarian pause” in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta, bowing to international pressure to halt the carnage in the rebel-held enclave where fresh strikes claimed more civilian lives yesterday. Meanwhile, Kuwait began delivering urgently needed aid to besieged civilians amid the bombardment. A UN Security Council resolution for a 30-day truce had remained a dead letter since it was passed on Saturday, and Moscow, the Syrian regime’s main backer, ended up setting its own terms to stem one of the worst episodes of bloodletting in Syria’s seven-year-old conflict.

The United Nations, France and Germany had made pressing appeals for Russian President Vladimir Putin to demand its Damascus ally enforce a ceasefire, including in Eastern Ghouta where more than 500 civilians were killed last week. He eventually agreed to a five-hour daily window that would allow residents of the battered enclave east of the capital to come out of the underground shelters they have been cowering in.

“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,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said. According to a statement sent to AFP, he said there should be similar pauses in the southern Al-Tanf border region and Rukban, near the Jordanian border. Shoigu said “humanitarian corridors” would be opened to allow civilians to leave, adding that their locations would soon be divulged.

UN chief Antonio Guterres had expressed frustration with the lack of results the resolution yielded and stressed yesterday in Geneva: “Eastern Ghouta cannot wait. It is high time to stop this hell on earth.” The intensity of the bombardment on Eastern Ghouta had eased somewhat over the weekend but deadly strikes and shelling never stopped. Among the latest victims were nine members of the same family killed when their home in Douma, the main town in the enclave, collapsed on their heads yesterday.

“Nine civilians from the same family were killed in regime air strikes in Douma, after midnight,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring organization. “Some of the bodies are still stuck in the rubble,” he said. An AFP correspondent in Douma said the bombardment had been very heavy overnight and impeded rescuers in their work. A total of 22 civilians, including seven children, were killed yesterday, the Observatory said.

Meanwhile, Kuwait has begun delivering urgently needed aid to besieged civilians in Eastern Ghouta amid bombardment that resumed a day after the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution calling for a 30-day truce in Syria. The vanguard Kuwaiti initiative will hopefully encourage international relief organizations to follow suit and implement the UNSC Resolution 2401 designed to secure delivery of humanitarian supplies to the needy in Syria along with halting fighting for 30 days.

Despite reports indicating that the warring parties have not muzzled their guns and the superpowers have not worked out a mechanism on ceasing fire, Kuwait on Sunday decided to proceed with distributing relief supplies to the besieged civilians in Eastern Ghouta for 15 days.

Kuwait Red Crescent Society (KRCS), in coordination with the Turkish Relief Association, has been delivering the humanitarian supplies to the populace in Eastern Ghouta, thus depicting Kuwait’s unique role as the UN-acclaimed humanitarian center. KRCS Chairperson Dr Hilal Al-Sayer, in a statement to KUNA, affirmed that the Kuwaiti people will spare no effort for securing humanitarian necessities for the afflicted Syrian people, particularly under the current hard conditions. The 15-day humanitarian project for Eastern Ghouta aims at relieving the encircled civilians, estimated at 126,700, the bulk of whom cannot secure food including milk for babies.

The latest initiative is part of ongoing efforts by Kuwait, under the leadership of HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah – crowned with the UN designation as a humanitarian leader – to alleviate the Syrian people’s suffering since the flare-up of the Syrian crisis in March 2011. As part of this approach, Kuwait has hosted three international conferences pledging aid for the Syrian people and took part in a fourth convention hosted by London. Kuwait, along with other key donors, have pledged to donate millions of dollars in aid to Syria.

The Syrian regime intensified its air campaign against Eastern Ghouta, which has been outside government control since 2012, at the beginning of the month. On Feb 18, the Syrian government further turned up the heat on the territory controlled by Islamist groups. More than 550 civilians, almost a quarter of them children, have since been killed and extensive destruction wrought on the enclave’s towns. The hospitals and clinics that were not destroyed by strikes have struggled to process the more than 2,000 people wounded over the same period.

The UN said in a statement yesterday that a staggering 76 percent of private housing in Eastern Ghouta was damaged. Residents trapped in the wreckage of their own homes have bled to death as rescuers were targeted even as they tried to save lives. Much of the nearly 400,000-strong population of Eastern Ghouta has moved underground, with families pitching tents in basements and venturing out only to assess damage to their property and buy food.

Another flashpoint in Syria has been the northern region of Afrin, where Kurdish forces have come under attack from neighboring Turkey since Jan 20. Turkey has warned it did not consider that the UN ceasefire resolution, which is not limited to Eastern Ghouta but whose wording excludes operations against terror groups, should affect its offensive on Afrin. Macron yesterday called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who considers the Syrian Kurdish militia to be “terrorist”, to stress the truce should apply there too.

The Turkish army yesterday took control of the outer edge of Afrin region, state media said, as Ankara said it was readying for a “new battle” by deploying police special forces. The military and allied Syrian rebel factions pushed some Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters back from the frontier near the Turkish border, effectively creating a “crescent” of control on Syria’s side of the border, the state-run news agency Anadolu reported.

Since launching its operation in the northwest Syrian region, Turkey has captured 115 “strategic points” and 87 villages, Anadolu said. The Syrian Kurdish YPG forces said Turkish warplanes had struck a village near Jandaris in the southwest of Afrin, killing five civilians. A YPG-led alliance said its forces had responded in self-defense to Turkish attacks, and that fighting raged on multiple fronts around Afrin. Five Turkish soldiers were killed in the space of 24 hours, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said.

The Observatory said Turkish troops now held a continuous strip on the edge of Afrin. The advance opens a corridor that links territory in Aleppo province under the control of rebels backed by Turkey with the insurgent stronghold of Idlib province. – Agencies

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