Putin Orders 'Daily Humanitarian Pause' in Airstrikes on Syrian Rebels
By Ken Bredemeier, Chris Hannas February 26, 2018
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered a "daily humanitarian pause" in Moscow's airstrikes on Syrian rebels, a five-hour window to let civilians escape from clashes near Damascus.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said starting Tuesday the Russian stand-down would run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. local time, "with the goal of avoiding civilian casualties."
Putin's order comes two days after the shaky start of a 30-day cease-fire across Syria unanimously demanded by the U.N. Security Council. Fighting has continued in eastern Ghouta outside Damascus, the capital, with at least 10 people killed Monday, according to activists, as airstrikes and bombing resumed.
In a phone call, French President Emmanuel Macron told Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of his "strong concerns" about the ongoing airstrikes aimed at civilians and hospitals in rebel-held eastern Ghouta.
But the French leader also called on Erdogan to end Ankara's airstrikes in Afrin in northern Syria, which it launched last month against U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia it considers to be a "terrorist" group allied with Kurdish insurgents that have been fighting the government inside Turkey for three decades. On Sunday, Turkey said the U.N. truce would not affect its operations in northern Syria.
Syria's state news agency and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Turkish attacks early Monday killed five people. The Observatory said the dead included two children, in the village of Yalan Quz.
Damascus and the Observatory said a Sunday airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition on an area held by Islamic State in the eastern part of Syria had killed at least 25 people, including seven children and six women.
Guterres calls for end to fighting in Syria
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said resolutions issued by the Security Council "are only meaningful if they are effectively implemented," while reiterating that Syrians in the besieged area of eastern Ghouta "cannot wait" for humanitarian aid.
The council on Saturday demanded a nationwide cease-fire in Syria for 30 days, while calling for a lifting of sieges and allowing access for medical and rescue workers.
"I expect the resolution to be immediately implemented and sustained, particularly to ensure the immediate, safe, unimpeded and sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and services, the evacuation of the critically sick and the wounded, and the alleviation of the suffering of the Syrian people," Guterres said.
But violence has not halted, with the U.N. and a Syrian war monitor reporting fresh airstrikes Monday in eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held suburb of Damascus where more than 500 people have been killed during the past week.
"We insist on its full implementation without delay, however we have every reason to remain cautious as airstrikes on eastern Ghouta continue this morning," U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra-ad al-Hussein said.
Zeid also cast a level of doubt on the prospects for the resolution, saying it "must also be viewed against a backdrop of seven years of failure to stop the violence, seven years of unremitting and frightful mass killing."
Throughout the conflict that began in 2011, there have been several proposals at the Security Council to hold human rights violators accountable, but those resolutions have been blocked by Russia and China utilizing their veto power.
The five permanent members of the council, which also includes Britain, France and the United States, can veto any resolution.
Whom to blame?
During his opening statement Monday at the start of the U.N. Human Rights Council's annual session, Zeid spoke generally about a failure of the council to address suffering in the world, saying the permanent members are responsible "for the continuation of so much pain." He specifically faulted China, Russia and the United States for their use of vetoes on a variety of issues.
"So long as the veto is used by them to block any unity of action when it is needed the most, when it could reduce the extreme suffering of innocent people, then it is they the permanent members who must answer before the victims," Zeid said.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also expressed her concern and that of European foreign ministers about an increase in violence across Syria, "from different actors, obviously first and foremost by the regime and its supporters."
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