The White House condemned Russia’s involvement in Syria’s slaughter inside Eastern Ghouta, saying in a statement Sunday that the Syrian campaign backed by Russia and Iran is killing “innocent civilians under the false auspices of counterterrorism operations,” Fox News reports.
“After repeatedly delaying the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2401, which demanded a 30-day cessation of hostilities across Syria, Russia has gone on to ignore its terms and to kill innocent civilians under the false auspices of counterterrorism operations. This is the same combination of lies and indiscriminate force that Russia and the Syrian regime used to isolate and destroy Aleppo in 2016, where thousands of civilians were killed,” the U.S. statement said.
The statement comes after Moscow blocked a United Nations (UN) resolution in February that would have seen a 30-day ceasefire imposed on parts of Eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held area east of Damascus. Hundreds of people have been killed over the past several weeks as pro-Assad forces, supported by Russia, work to retake the area, which is the last major rebel stronghold in the country.
Government forces have retaken 25 percent of the area, according to the BBC, leading to a mass exodus of civilians. The UN said in a statement on Sunday that it was concerned about the violence and that “collective punishment of civilians is simply unacceptable.”
Eastern Ghouta, home to some 400,000 people, has been under a crippling siege and daily bombardment for months. More than 600 civilians have been killed in the last two weeks alone. The UN said 15,000 people reportedly have been driven from their homes in January, the majority staying in shelters and basements around Ghouta.
The Syrian government and its backer Russia appear determined to seize the region, adding it to the latest series of victories that have consolidated President Bashar Assad’s hold on power seven years into the conflict.
“The civilized world must not tolerate the Assad regime’s continued use of chemical weapons,” the U.S. statement said, referring to recent reports that the Assad government has used chemical weapons against the rebel-held areas; Assad has denied the allegations, according to The Hill.
Russia has accused the rebels of preventing civilians from leaving, which insurgents have denied. The rebels say the humanitarian corridor is part of government efforts to forcibly displace the population, and have called on government forces to implement a full cease-fire adopted by the UN Security Council.
Eastern Ghouta has been besieged by government forces since 2013. The last aid delivery to Ghouta was on Feb. 14, when help was sent to around 7,000 people in Nashabiyah, now under government control. According to a yet unreleased UN report, North Korea has shipped supplies to the Syrian government to be used in the production of chemical weapons; Ben Hall reports on the ongoing conflict in Syria.
In a statement Sunday, the UN said it plans to deliver aid to Douma, the largest town in eastern Ghouta, with its partners on the ground. An aid convoy consisting of 46 truckloads will be allowed in Monday with health and nutrition supplies and food for 27,500. The convoy will be led by Ali al-Za’tari, the UN resident humanitarian coordinator in Syria.
“We hope that the convoy may proceed as planned and will be followed by other convoys,” al-Za’tari said.
The White House also called on pro-regime forces to “immediately cease targeting medical infrastructure and civilians” in Eastern Ghouta.
Assad’s forces have seized over a quarter of the enclave on Damascus’s eastern edges after two weeks of devastating bombardment, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor.
The advance on the back of air strikes, artillery fire and rocket attacks that are reported to have killed more than 650 civilians, sent hundreds flying to western parts of the enclave.