CAIRO – A series of clashes on Sunday killed at least 19 people in the rebel-held area of Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus, with fighting taking place between forces loyal to the Syrian government and Islamist militant groups despite a recent United Nations ceasefire agreement, according to a United Kingdom-based war monitor.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that government forces clashed with Jaysh al-Islam militias in al-Marj town in the southeast of Eastern Ghouta, as well as with the Islamic Movement of the Free People of the Levant (frequently referred to as Ahrar al-Sham) in Harasta, in the northwest of the rebel-controlled region.
Eastern Ghouta’s rebel-held network of towns and satellite cities outside Damascus has for years been besieged by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, preventing much-needed food and humanitarian aid from reaching the UN-estimated 400,000 people living there.
In al-Marj, at least 19 people were killed, although the NGO did not specify the number of casualties from each side and reported no fatalities on the Harasta front.
The fighting broke out after the United Nations on Saturday evening approved a resolution imposing an immediate 30-day ceasefire in Syria, after eight days of intense airstrikes and shelling in Eastern Ghouta by Assad’s forces left over 500 civilians dead, including 127 children.
Casting further doubt on the viability of the ceasefire, Iran’s armed forces chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Baqeri, said on Sunday that his country respects the UN resolution, but would continue to support the Syrian government in its fight to eradicate extremists across all of Syria.
“There are parties who are not after the establishment of peace and security in the country, and faced with the Syrian army’s new campaign to cleanse the regions surrounding Damascus of terrorists, they have called for a ceasefire,” the general claimed, as quoted in the official Iranian news agency IRNA.
“The fight against notorious terrorist groups like the al-Nusra Front will continue, while security zones will be established in the areas surrounding Damascus for the people to continue their lives,” he added.
Under the ceasefire deal, military operations are allowed to continue against groups regarded as terror organizations by the UN, including the Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front, who now call themselves Tahrir al-Sham, which the Syrian government says are present in Eastern Ghouta.
Jaysh al-Islam is not considered a terror organization by the UN.