MOSCOW – French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Tuesday he welcomed a Russian-backed pause in hostilities in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta and hoped that it was the first of many such steps aimed a de-escalating violence in the region.
Le Drian was in Moscow to speak with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, whose president, Vladimir Putin, asked on Monday his Syrian ally, President Bashar al-Assad, to halt his military campaign on the rebel-held Damascus suburb for five hours a day in order to allow for humanitarian aid delivery.
“The five-hour humanitarian ceasefire is a real step forward and it a credit to Russian initiative,” Le Drian said in a joint Moscow preference following his meeting with Lavrov.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel wrote to the Russian president last week urging his support for a United Nations Security Council ceasefire resolution to apply a 30-day cessation of hostiles across all of Syria.
Putin’s decision to draft his own terms for a humanitarian pause effectively undermined the UN resolution but was nonetheless welcomed in a region that for the last eight days has been the subject of almost incessant bombardment from the Syrian government in a tirade that caused the death of upwards of 500 people.
However, the UN’s humanitarian office said it had received reports that fighting was ongoing in Eastern Ghouta, with spokesperson Jens Laerke describing the situation as “bleak.”
Le Drian said that all the rebel groups active in Eastern Ghouta had signed the UN treaty and pressured the Damascus regime to follow suit.
“First we must make sure that all the parties accept the ceasefire,” he said, adding that mechanisms must be put in place to make sure that the deal is observed.
He also asked for Russia to extend the ceasefire period to 24 hours a day so that aid convoys could travel to the blockaded region.