Macron urges truce in Syria's Eastern Ghouta after bombardment escalation

US withdraws as Middle East burns
Executive Summary for February 21st

22 February, 2018

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Tuesday that Washington was seriously alarmed by the rising violence in Ghouta.

"How much cruelty will it take before the global community can speak with one voice to say enough dead children, enough wrecked families, enough violence, and take resolute, concerted action to bring this monstrous campaign of annihilation to an end?"

The violence in the capital and nearby areas came as scores of pro-government gunmen began entering the northern Kurdish enclave of Afrin.

The Kremlin on Wednesday denied involvement in air strikes on Syria's rebel-held Eastern Ghouta enclave that monitors say have killed at least 250 civilians since the start of the week.

Diana Semaan, the charity's Syria researcher, said: "People have not only been suffering a cruel siege for the past six years, they are now trapped in a daily barrage of attacks that are deliberately killing and maiming them, and that constitute flagrant war crimes".

A commander in the coalition fighting on behalf of Assad's government told the Reuters agency overnight that the bombing aims to prevent the rebels from targeting the eastern neighbourhoods of Damascus with mortars.

Mahmoud said that government forces bombed houses, schools and medical facilities, and that rescuers had found more than 100 people dead "in one day alone" on Monday.

Eastern Ghouta is home to more than 400,000 people living under crippling government siege, with little access to food or medical resources.

Rescuers said the air raids created "a state of terror" among residents in eastern Ghouta, where the United Nations says almost 400,000 people live.

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An Amnesty International spokesman said: "The Syrian government, with the backing of Russian Federation, is intentionally targeting its own people in eastern Ghouta".

French president Emmanuel Macron has said France "vigorously" condemns the bombardment of the rebel-held area of eastern Ghouta in Syria. However, a rebel group formerly affiliated with al Qaeda is not included in the truce and has a small presence there.

The TV reporter said residents expressed hope that the Syrian army would retake eastern Ghouta.

The Syrian government and its ally Russian Federation, which has backed Assad with air power since 2015, say they do not target civilians. UNICEF said it issued this blank statement because "we no longer have the words to describe children's suffering and our outrage".

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has called for access to the wounded in Syria's Eastern Ghouta, as the committee said in a statement. They were repelled by Turkish shelling.

Minutes before the shelling, about 20 vehicles with heavy machine guns mounted on them were seen entering the area as part of an agreement between the government and the main Kurdish militia in Syria known as the People's Protection Units, or YPG.

Turkey fired shells near the advancing columns, which, it says, forced the pro-government fighters into retreat.

Ankara considers the YPG a "terrorist group" linked to the Kurdish insurgency within Turkey's borders.

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