Russia calls on Syrian rebels to back humanitarian pause

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Geneva, Feb 28 (IANS) Russia on Wednesday called on Syrian rebels to heed the five-hour daily truce in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, after at least 500 people were killed in over a week of intense bombing by the Syrian government and its allies in the besieged area outside the capital Damascus.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made these remarks while addressing the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council, following Monday’s call by Russia – which backs the Syrian government – for a pause in fighting from 9 a.m .to 2 p.m. each day to allow civilians to leave Eastern Ghouta, Efe reported.

“Russia, alongside the Syrian government, has already announced humanitarian corridors in Eastern Ghouta. Now it is time for the rebels to act,” he said.

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He pointed out that Saturday’s UN Security Council resolution approving a 30-day ceasefire across Syria was the basis for an agreement to end the suffering of the UN-estimated 400,000 civilians trapped in Eastern Ghouta, which has been under siege by the Syrian government since 2014.

However, he claimed that opposition militias and extremist groups controlling Eastern Ghouta had blocked civilian evacuations and aid distribution, and continued to carry out attacks on Damascus.

Addressing reporters after the session, Lavrov questioned whether rebel groups would allow humanitarian aid to be distributed in Eastern Ghouta.

Lavrov said Russia is set to continue supporting the Syrian army until they eliminate the “terror threat.”

He also called on the United States-led international coalition to back the ceasefire.

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“We demand the members of the so-called American coalition to secure the same humanitarian access to the localities they control,” he added.

Later on, Lavrov discussed the need to advance the peace process with the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura.

“We discussed what happened since the Sochi conference, and de Mistura stressed the importance of that meeting to consolidate the bases so he can re-launch negotiations,” Lavrov added.

The Russian resort town of Sochi hosted a Russian-organised conference last month in a bid to resume the peace process.

–IANS

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