The United Nations says it has not received Syrian government permission to deliver humanitarian aid to rebel-held Eastern Ghouta despite a UN ceasefire resolution and a partial humanitarian pause ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Since the UN Security Council voted unanimously in favor of a 30-day ceasefire in Syria last Saturday, the besieged Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta has seen “More bombing. More fighting. More death. More destruction… More, in other words, of the same,” UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock told the Security Council on Wednesday.
Lowcock said a 45-truck convoy with aid for 90,000 people was ready to enter 10 besieged locations in Eastern Ghouta but had not been given permission to enter.
Putin is blaming “extremist forces” for the failure of a daily five-hour “humanitarian pause” he had ordered for Eastern Ghouta earlier this week.
The Security Council and, separately, the Russian leader, had issued calls for a pause in fighting to allow civilians to leave. The UN also wanted to send urgent medical and food supplies in.
Both calls were ignored and rebel fighters holed up in Eastern Ghouta, as well as Syrian government forces, accused each other of breaking the truce.
Syrian government air- and ground-based strikes in Eastern Ghouta have killed more than 580 people and injured more than 1,000 since a regime assault on the Damascus suburb began on February 18, according to the UN.
The UN also reported that fighters in the enclave have fired hundreds of rockets at the Syrian capital, reportedly killing 15 people and injuring over 200.
During a news conference in Moscow Wednesday, Putin said “extremist forces” and representatives of “terrorist organizations” had prevented civilians from leaving.
He told reporters that an agreement had been reached with “the Syrian partners.”
“We offered to organize a humanitarian corridor to get children, wounded, all those who need help out of the region … If we all join our efforts to stabilize the situation in the country in general and in Eastern Ghouta, we are bound for success,” Putin said. He didn’t elaborate on what that success might look like.
US and UN officials have accused the Russian-backed Syrian regime of carrying out an indiscriminate aerial bombardment of the area.
Gen. Joseph Votel, who oversees all US troops in the Middle East, said Tuesday that Russia was playing the role of “both arsonist and firefighter” in Syria. Votel said continued regime aerial attacks in Eastern Ghouta appeared to show that Russia is incapable of holding the regime to account or is unwilling to.
The Russian President appeared to override a UN Security Council resolution to halt hostilities for 30 days by ordering the five-hour daily truce that was to have begun on Tuesday.
The UN resolution provided little detail on when the ceasefire was meant to begin, how it would be enforced or even whether all the parties concerned were aware of it.
Putin’s five-hour proposal was slammed by ambassadors at the UN Wednesday. UK Deputy Ambassador Jonathan Allen said it was “wholly inadequate,” and that there had been no letup in the bombing, nor had any aid workers been granted access to Eastern Ghouta.
“We have a continuation of hell on Earth,” Allen told reporters.
On Tuesday, International Committee for the Red Cross Middle East Director Robert Mardini said a five-hour pause was inadequate for aid delivery.
“It is impossible to bring a humanitarian convoy in five hours. We have a long experience of bringing aid across frontlines in Syria, and we know that it may take up to one day to simply pass checkpoints, despite the previous agreement of all parties,” he said.