Shelling Targets Damascus Suburbs Despite Two-Day Truce
Dozens of mortar bombs targeted the besieged Eastern Ghouta suburbs of the capital on Wednesday, despite a 48-hour cease-fire announced one day earlier, Reuters reported.
Citing the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), Reuters said that at least one person was killed when mortars landed in the last rebel stronghold near the capital.
According to Al Jazeera, the shelling targeted the towns of Douma and Arbin. Reuters said the heavy shelling was accompanied by ground attempts to storm the area.
Wednesday’s attacks come one day after U.N. envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said the Syrian government had accepted a 48-hour truce suggested by Russia.
The Eastern Ghouta region is designated by Russia, Turkey, and Iran as a so-called de-escalation zone.
More than 147 people have been killed by airstrikes and shelling in the region since pro-government forces, backed by Russian warplanes, launched an offensive nearly two weeks ago to reclaim the rebel holdout.
Separately, the U.N. issued a statement on Wednesday warning that levels of famine and severe malnutrition among children in Eastern Ghouta are the highest recorded in the country since the start of the conflict, Agence France-Presse reported.
A November survey conducted by UNICEF in the besieged rebel enclave found that 11.9 percent of children under five struggled with severe malnutrition. This is “the highest rate ever recorded in Syria” since the conflict started, AFP said.
Syrian Government Arrives in Geneva One Day Late
The Syrian government’s delegation to peace talks arrived in Geneva on Wednesday, one day after the U.N.-brokered negotiations formally opened, AFP reported.
The government initially refused to confirm whether it would attend the eighth round of peace talks after a statement released last week by the opposition insisted on President Bashar al-Assad’s departure before the start of a political transition.
But the government’s delegation met with U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura on Wednesday. De Mistura described the atmosphere in his meeting with the government as “constructive and professional,” according to AFP.
The U.N. envoy also met with the Syrian opposition – united in one delegation for the first time.
“As the other party has arrived, we want to move rapidly, as quickly as possible to a direct negotiation,” Nasr al-Hariri, the opposition’s lead negotiator, told reporters before entering a meeting with de Mistura.
Previous rounds of negotiations have seen no direct contact between the rival delegations. Citing an unidentified source close to the Syrian government, AFP said that “Damascus would not agree to sit around a table with rebel negotiators at this stage.”
On Wednesday the opposition also called on Russia and other states to pressurize Assad into engaging in negotiations in Geneva to produce a political settlement within six months, Reuters reported.
“We want more pressure on the regime to engage in the negotiation and continue in the negotiation to reach a political solution in six months, as (U.N. Security Council Resolution) 2254 says,” Hariri told Reuters.
Russia to Challenge Cross-Border Aid Delivery to Opposition-Held Areas
Russia said on Wednesday that it is seeking changes to a U.N. Security Council resolution that authorizes cross-border aid delivery to opposition-held parts of Syria without approval from the Syrian government, AFP reported.
Speaking at the Security Council, Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said that cross-border aid deliveries, which the U.N. authorized in 2014, were being diverted.
“This mechanism cannot remain as it presently stands,” Nebenzia said, adding that it “undermines the sovereignty of Syria.”
He also said, “There needs to be order in the distribution of humanitarian assistance for it not to fall in the hands of terrorists and for it not to then be re-sold to the Syrian people at higher prices.”
Russia’s comments come ahead of a vote on renewing the resolution that authorizes cross-border assistance. The resolution expires on January 10, according to AFP.
U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council that cross-border deliveries were “essential to save lives.”
He said that in the first 10 months of 2017, “over 750,000 people on average each month were reached through U.N. cross-border activities,” the Associated Press reported.
Most cross-border assistance to opposition-held parts of Syria comes from Jordan and Turkey.
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