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Joint international action urged to end Assad’s massacres

Opposition activists say Russian warplanes are taking part in bombarding Damascus’ eastern suburbs, also known as Eastern Ghouta. (Reuters)
ANKARA: The UN should end a “massacre” by Syria’s regime in Eastern Ghouta, the spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said ahead of Saturday’s UN Security Council vote on a demand for a 30-day cease-fire in Syria.
A draft resolution aimed at ending a deadly pro-regime bombing campaign in the Eastern Ghouta district and elsewhere in Syria was delayed by the UN Security Council on Friday after a flurry of last-minute negotiations caused a 24-hour delay.
Turkey, one of the main backers of opposition forces fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad, on Saturday called for the world to jointly put an end to one of the deadliest pro-regime bombing campaigns targeting militants in the seven-year Syrian civil war.
“The Assad regime is carrying out a massacre in Eastern Ghouta. The whole world should jointly say ‘stop’ to this massacre,” Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, wrote on Twitter.
Warplanes pounded the Eastern Ghouta opposition enclave again on Saturday, the seventh day in a row of a fierce escalation by Damascus and its allies, an emergency service, a witness and a monitoring group said.
A total of 127 children figure among the 510 dead in the bombing campaign that the regime launched last Sunday on the enclave just outside Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Britain-based monitor of the war said at least 32 civilians were killed in Saturday’s strikes, including eight children. A night of heavy bombardment sparked fires in residential districts, it said.
The Observatory has said the airstrikes are being carried out by Syrian and Russian forces. Moscow, which intervened militarily in support of its Damascus ally in 2015, has denied any direct involvement in the Eastern Ghouta bombardment.
Previous cease-fires have had a poor record of ending fighting in Syria, where Assad’s forces have gained the upper hand with support from Russia, which has a history of standing in the way of Security Council measures that would harm Assad’s interests.
US President Donald Trump on Friday said Russia’s recent actions in Syria were a “disgrace.”
World leaders have expressed outrage at the plight of civilians in Eastern Ghouta, which UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called “hell on earth,” but have so far been powerless to halt the bloodshed.
Eastern Ghouta is completely surrounded by regime-controlled territory and its 400,000 residents are unwilling or unable to flee the deadly siege.
The opposition forces have been firing back into Damascus, where a hospital was hit on Friday, regime news agency SANA claimed.
At least 16 civilians have been killed in eastern districts of Damascus since Sunday, according to the regime-controlled media, and many residents have sought temporary accommodation elsewhere for fear of a further intensification of the fighting.
At the UN, US Ambassador Nikki Haley expressed dismay as negotiations dragged on to secure Russian approval for a cease-fire resolution.
“Unbelievable that Russia is stalling a vote on a cease-fire allowing humanitarian access in Syria,” Haley posted on Twitter.
“How many more people will die before the Security Council agrees to take up this vote? Let’s do this tonight. The Syrian people can’t wait.”
Diplomats said the council meeting to vote on the ceasefire failed to start as scheduled at 1700 GMT on Saturday as negotiations continued in an effort to avert a Russian veto.
It was not immediately known if the vote would be postponed.
Haley told reporters as she went into the council chamber: “Today (Saturday) we are going to see if Russia has a conscience.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron wrote to Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Friday to ask him to back the cease-fire.
Negotiations have stumbled over a key provision of the draft resolution that specifies when the cease-fire will begin. Following hours of tough negotiations, an amended draft was circulated that demands a 30-day cease-fire “without delay,” while stopping short of specifying the timing.
A previous draft had said the cease-fire would go into force 72 hours after the adoption, but that was dropped from the text in a bid to reach compromise with Russia.
In another concession to Russia, the draft also specifies that the cease-fire will not apply to operations against Daesh or Al-Qaeda, along with “individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated” with the blacklisted terror groups.
The text would demand the immediate lifting of all sieges, including that on Eastern Ghouta, and order all sides to “cease depriving civilians of food and medicine indispensable to their survival.”

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