Air strikes and rockets hit Syria enclave despite truce

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Smoke billows following a regime air strike on the besieged Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, late on February 23, 2018. Syrian regime air strikes and artillery fire hit the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta for a sixth straight day killing 32 civilians, as the world struggled to reach a deal to stop the carnage. / AFP PHOTO / Ammar SULEIMAN

A fledgling “humanitarian pause” announced by Russia in Syria’s rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta was rattled Tuesday by fresh air strikes and rocket fire, several sources said. “Fighting continues this morning. That is what our reports from Eastern Ghouta tell us,” a spokesman for the UN humanitarian office, Jens Laerke, told reporters in Geneva, adding that it was premature to discuss any relief operations for desperate civilians given the persisting clashes.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group reported air raids, including the dropping of two barrel bombs, as well as rocket fire, while state media accused rebel forces of shelling humanitarian corridors to keep civilians hostage. The Britain-based Observatory said two barrel bombs crude, improvised munitions that cause indiscriminate damage on the Shaifuniyah area of Eastern Ghouta.

Rockets were also fired on several areas in the enclave but the head of the Observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman, said no deaths were immediately reported as a result of the fresh violence. The toll for the deadly blitz against Eastern Ghouta continued to mount nonetheless when five bodies were found in the rubble of destroyed buildings, he said. A woman also died Tuesday when the roof of her home, damaged by earlier bombardment, gave in and collapsed on her, a news correspondent in the main town of Douma reported.

The Syrian state news agency SANA also accused the rebels of firing several rockets on the path of the corridor declared by Russia to allow for the evacuation of civilians. It specifically accused the former Al-Qaeda affiliate present in some parts of the enclave of trying to prevent civilians from leaving “to use them as human shields”.

The latest violence rattled the first five-hour pause that is due to take place daily, according to the terms of a deal announced by Russia on Monday. The violence remained significantly lower than at any point since February 18, when Syria and Russian forces intensified their bombardment of Eastern Ghouta.

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