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Russia's Humanitarian Corridor in Syria a 'Joke,' State Department Spokeswoman Says

By VOA News March 02, 2018

Russia's idea for a humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians from a besieged Damascus suburb is "a joke," the U.S. State Department's spokeswoman said Thursday.

"What needs to happen instead is a nationwide cease-fire that was voted upon unanimously at the United Nations last Saturday," Heather Nauert told reporters. "Fifteen countries supported it, let me remind you. So did Russia."

The 30-day cease-fire in eastern Ghouta approved by the Security Council was "clearly not working," Nauert said. "They are continuing to kill innocent civilians. We have seen more than 100 people die since Saturday alone."

She said "Russia's responsible for this in part because they continue to train and equip and work with the Syrian government," adding "we've been watching that very carefully. It's a tremendous concern of the U.S. government."

Washington is calling on the Russians to pressure the Syrians to restrain themselves and de-escalate the fighting, not just in eastern Ghouta but everywhere.

Russia unilaterally announced Monday a daily five-hour pause in fighting in rebel-held eastern Ghouta so civilians can leave through a humanitarian corridor.

But no one has taken advantage of the daily lull so far, not trusting the Russians or the Syrians, and no aid has gone in.

Jan Egeland, the U.N. humanitarian aid chief for Syria, called the Russian plan "positive" but "insufficient."

"I know of no humanitarian actor ... who thinks that five hours is enough for us to be able to deliver relief into eastern Ghouta and to organize orderly medical evacuations out," he said.

UN 'determined'

Also Thursday, U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said in Geneva that the United Nations "has not and will not" give up in demanding implementation of a 30-day cease-fire across Syria.

"We don't have and we cannot afford to have the luxury of giving up, so any type of feeling that the U.N. is frustrated, forget it. We are not frustrated, we are determined," he said.

Nearly 600 people have died and more than 1,000 have been wounded since the Syrian military launched an operation to retake eastern Ghouta from the rebels more than two weeks ago.

Rockets fired from the suburb into Damascus have reportedly killed 15 and injured more than 200.

Raed Saleh, head of the rescue group known as the Syrian White Helmets, said Thursday in Washington that many Syrians believe the world has "abandoned and failed" them.

He called U.N. Security Council resolutions worthless and said Russia was responsible for what was going on.

Margaret Besheer at the United Nations and Nike Ching at the State Department contributed to this report.

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