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UN chief urges halt to war in ‘hell on Earth’ Syria enclave

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an immediate halt to fighting in Eastern Ghouta where a Syrian government bombing campaign has turned the rebel-held enclave into “hell on Earth” for civilians. (Screenshot)
UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday called for an immediate halt to fighting in Eastern Ghouta where a Syrian government bombing campaign has turned the rebel-held enclave into “hell on Earth” for civilians.
“My appeal to all those involved is for an immediate suspension of all war activities in Eastern Ghouta allowing for humanitarian aid to reach all those in need” and for medical evacuations, Guterres told the Security Council.
The UN chief said he was “deeply saddened by the terrible suffering” of civilians in Eastern Ghouta where he said 400,000 people “live in hell on Earth.”
“This is a human tragedy that is unfolding in front of our eyes, and I don’t think we can let things go on happening in this horrendous way,” he added.
Guterres said he supported efforts at the Security Council to agree on a draft resolution demanding a 30-day cease-fire in Syria to allow for deliveries of humanitarian aid and medical evacuations.
Sweden and Kuwait presented the measure to the council on February 9 but negotiations have been tough-going, with Russia raising objections to the proposed truce, diplomats said.
“I fully support that effort, but I believe Eastern Ghouta cannot wait,” Guterres told the council.
The negotiations have dragged on as Syrian forces backed by Russia have escalated a fierce offensive on Eastern Ghouta.
Close to 300 civilians have been killed since Sunday including 24 Syrians who died when government warplanes dropped barrel bombs on the town of Kfar Batna on Wednesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Meanwhile, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein attacked what he called a “monstrous campaign of annihilation” on Wednesday against the besieged civilian population of eastern Ghouta.
“International humanitarian law was developed precisely to stop this type of situation, where civilians are slaughtered in droves in order to fulfil political or military objectives,” he said in a statement.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday also called for a truce in Eastern Ghouta to allow for the evacuation of civilians trapped by the barrage of airstrikes.
“France is asking for a truce in Eastern Ghouta in order to ensure the evacuation of civilians and facilitate humanitarian access as quickly as possible,” he told reporters, accusing Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime of using the fight against terrorism as a “pretext” to attack civilians.
Macron said that France was “fully committed” to fighting terrorism in Syria as part of the US-led coalition.
“But France clearly, vigorously condemns what is happening today in Eastern Ghouta,” he said, calling for an “immediate” UN resolution on the situation.
Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog told reporters he hoped that a vote on the draft resolution demanding the cease-fire could take place “in the next few days,” possibly as early as Thursday.
Asked whether there was a consensus on the draft text, Skoog said: “That, I don’t know yet.”
Russia has resorted to its veto power at the council to block resolutions targeting its Syrian ally.
The latest draft text circulated last week calls for the truce to go into effect 72 hours after the adoption of the measure and for aid deliveries and medical evacuations to begin 48 hours after that.

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