MOSCOW – Russia’s President Vladimir Putin ordered on Monday for a limited ceasefire to be implemented in the besieged rebel-held Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, where clashes and airstrikes in recent days have left over 500 people dead.
Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu announced the plan for a daily five-hour humanitarian pause in fighting applicable to Eastern Ghouta, which has been the subject of Syrian government bombardment despite a resolution adopted by the United Nations Security Council over the weekend calling for a 30-day ceasefire throughout the country.
“On the orders of President Vladimir Putin, and with the objective of avoiding more victims in the civilian population of Eastern Ghouta, starting from Feb. 27, between 9 am and 2 pm each day, there will be a humanitarian pause,” Shoygu said.
He added that a plan to create humanitarian corridors out of Eastern Ghouta, which lies mere kilometers to the northeast of the capital Damascus, would be unveiled shortly.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres earlier told a human rights council in Geneva that it was “high time to stop this hell on earth” in Eastern Ghouta and called for the unhindered provision of humanitarian aid to the region and the evacuation of the sick and wounded.
The zone, a fertile area dotted with towns and satellite cities such as Douma, last week became the scene for one of the most violent episodes in the Syrian civil war since it began almost 8 years ago.
Local activists said over 500 people were killed in an almost non-stop barrage of shelling and airstrikes that have pummeled much the region’s infrastructure, including hospitals and schools, into rubble.
Eastern Ghouta has been under siege from forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad for four years.
Moscow is one of the biggest backers of the Assad regime and its firepower has been key to the once-embattled president’s resurgence.
Russia has repeatedly blocked UN ceasefire resolutions in Syria, citing a lack of guarantees that they would be adhered to by rebel groups, such as those of an Islamist strain that control Eastern Ghouta.
Fresh allegations of chemical weapons use in the region surfaced once more on Sunday night as epa images depicted young children with symptoms consistent with the effects of chlorine gas.
The encircled zone is home to about 400,000 people.