War in Syria continues despite UN-demanded ceasefire
Iran said attacks would continue on rebel-held areas near Damascus, where clashes were reported on Sunday between insurgents and government forces despite a UN resolution demanding a 30-day truce across Syria.
Warplanes and artillery hit some towns in the eastern Ghouta enclave, said residents, rescuers, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The latest escalation has killed more than 500 people in the enclave over the last week, the Observatory said.
Rebels said they clashed with government forces on several front lines in the early hours of Sunday. There was no immediate comment from the Syrian military.
Iranian General Mohammad Baqeri, whose government backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said Tehran and Damascus would respect the UN resolution.
But the Iranian military chief of staff also said the truce did not cover parts of the Damascus suburbs “held by the terrorists”, the Tasnim news agency said.
The UN Security Council resolution on Saturday followed seven straight days of bombing by pro-government forces on the besieged eastern suburbs, in one of the deadliest offensives of the war.
The Council voted unanimously to demand the truce to allow for aid access and medical evacuations.
The Russian foreign ministry on Sunday called on foreign supporters of anti-government forces in Syria to ensure that the ceasefire was observed.
“We count upon foreign patrons of anti-government militant groups … to ensure that their charges stop combat activities in the interests of the quickest and safe transit of humanitarian convoys,” the ministry said on its website. “We will watch this closely.”
Several previous ceasefires have unravelled quickly in the seven-year war.
Jaish al-Islam, one of the two major Islamist factions in Ghouta, said fierce battles raged on along several front lines of Sunday.
Hamza Birqdar, the military spokesman, said the insurgents had thwarted attacks by pro-government forces trying to advance. Rebels and troops have clashed with each others around the enclave in recent weeks.
Pope Francis denounced the “inhuman” violence in Syria and backed the UN ceasefire demand.
Francis led thousands of people in St Peter’s Square in praying on Sunday for an “immediate” end to hostilities.
He said: “The month of February has been one of the most violent in seven years of conflict: hundreds, thousands of civilian victims, children, women and the elderly, hospitals have been hit, people can’t get food. All this is inhuman.”
He insisted: “You can’t fight evil with evil.”
Associated Press, Reuters