Violence rages in Syria as UN calls to stop ‘hell on Earth’
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian forces launched a ground offensive Monday on a rebel-held eastern Damascus suburb despite a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding a 30-day cease-fire across Syria, as the U.N. chief denounced the violence in the embattled region, describing it as “hell on Earth.”
The violence, along with airstrikes that killed 10 people on Monday, according to opposition activists, bodes ill for the resolution adopted over the weekend at the United Nations.
There had been a relative calm in the besieged area in the immediate aftermath of the resolution, which was unanimously approved Saturday by the 15-member council. It demands a 30-day truce in all of Syria but excludes fighting with the Islamic State group and al-Qaida-linked fighters.
However, violence has since picked up again with 14 people killed on Sunday in airstrikes and bombardment of eastern Ghouta and 10 on Monday, activists said.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed on the warring sides to abide by the cease-fire. Speaking at the start of a session of the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council, the comments were his first remarks to the U.N. body since the resolution was adopted.
“Eastern Ghouta cannot wait,” he said. “It is high time to stop this hell on Earth.”
Guterres said he welcomes the resolution but added that council resolutions “are only meaningful if they are effectively implemented.” He added that he expects the “resolution to be immediately implemented and sustained” and also called for safe, unimpeded and sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and services, as well as evacuations of the sick and wounded.
At the Geneva gathering, U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein echoed calls for a “full implementation” of the truce but said that “however, we have every reason to remain cautious” about the cease-fire as airstrikes continue on Damascus suburbs.
He also decried “seven years of failure to stop the violence, seven years of unremitting and frightful mass killing” in Syria.
In Syria, state TV broadcast live footage showing the town of Harasta, in the Damascus suburbs, being pounded by airstrikes and artillery. The TV said troops were targeting al-Qaida-linked fighter in the area in an apparent move to show that the army is not violating the cease-fire.
Monday’s fighting was mostly concentrating in an area known as Harasta Farms, on the edge of town.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense, also known as White Helmets, said nine died in an airstrike shortly after midnight in the suburb of Douma and one person was killed in Harasta on Monday morning.
The new deaths bring to 24 the two-day death toll in eastern Ghouta. On Sunday, 14 people were killed, including an infant who was allegedly killed in a poison gas attack on the town of Sheifouniyeh.
The opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense said the attack killed a child and that several people and paramedics had breathing difficulties. The Ghouta Media Center, an activist collective, also reported the incident saying chlorine gas was used. The Observatory said it could not confirm the reports.
In northern Syria, Turkish police and paramilitary special forces crossed the border into a Syrian Kurdish-held enclave, signaling preparations for a possible offensive to capture the enclave’s main city, Afrin, Turkish officials and media said.
The state-run Anadolu Agency reported the special forces crossed from the Turkish border provinces of Kilis and Hatay on Monday.
Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said the deployment comes as the operation moves from rural regions of the enclave toward residential areas. He said it’s “in preparation of a new combat.”
Turkey launched an incursion into Afrin on Jan. 20 to drive out a U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia it considers to be a “terrorist” group, allied with its own Kurdish insurgents fighting within Turkey’s borders.
The U.N. resolution calls for a cease-fire across all of Syria but Turkey maintains that since fighting “terrorists.”