DOUMA, Syria: A “humanitarian pause” announced by Russia in Syria’s deadly bombardment of Eastern Ghouta failed to end violence on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila), with fresh bloodshed and no sign of aid deliveries or residents leaving the besieged enclave.
Nine days after Russian-backed regime forces intensified their campaign against the rebel-held enclave, the deal offered some respite to civilians who had been hiding in their basements.
But the first day of a five-hour daily “pause” that was ordered by President Vladimir Putin Monday and kicked off at 9 a.m. local time was marred by violence that saw seven people killed.
Moscow’s plan falls short of a broader 30-day ceasefire it agreed to at the United Nations Security Council but which has yet to take effect, and has inspired little trust from among the besieged enclave’s 400,000 residents.
The regime deployed buses at the Al-Wafideen checkpoint to transport residents wanting to use a humanitarian corridor to flee what UN chief Antonio Guterres last called “hell on Earth.”
But no civilians were seen venturing towards the regime forces guarding the checkpoint, where large portraits of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Putin could be seen side-by-side.
The “humanitarian pause” ordered by Putin echoed a similar tactic employed by Russia and Syrian regime during the ferocious battle to force rebels out of Aleppo in 2016.
Russia’s defence ministry accused armed groups in Eastern Ghouta of shelling the corridor, and said rebel fighters had “continued attacking the positions of the government forces” and “went on the offensive in other directions too.”
Syrian state news agency SANA said a former Al-Qaeda affiliate present in the enclave was blocking civilians “to use them as human shields.”
Some residents left the basements they had been cowering in for days to check on their property and buy food.
But many in the enclave, which lies on the eastern outskirts of the Syrian capital, appeared distrustful of a “pause” announced by Damascus’s main ally.
“This Russian truce is a farce. Russia is killing us and bombing us every day,” said Samer al-Buaidhani, a 25-year-old from Douma, Eastern Ghouta’s main hub.
“I don’t believe it’s safe for me or my family to leave by this system,” he told Agence France-Presse.
International Committee of the Red Cross spokeswoman Iolanda Jaquemet said any evacuation needed deeper coordination.
“Under international humanitarian law, humanitarian corridors are things which need to be well planned and must be implemented with the consent of parties on all sides, not only with one side,” she told Agence France-Presse.
Violence levels were significantly lower on Tuesday as the “humanitarian pause” kicked in but seven civilians were killed by regime bombardment, including two children, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.
The bombardment intensified again after 2 p.m. local time, the Britain-based group said.
Since February 18, 582 civilians, almost a quarter of them children, have been killed in the Syrian and Russian bombardment of Eastern Ghouta, making it one of the bloodiest episodes of the country’s seven-year-old conflict.
Fourteen of the dead, including five children, were pulled from the rubble on Tuesday after being killed in the past two days, said the Observatory.
In Damascus, the state news agency said, a civilian was killed and five others wounded by shelling from “terrorist organizations.