UN urges 72-hour ceasefire to allow aid to Syria’s eastern Ghouta

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The UN called Thursday for an urgent ceasefire in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta region, near Damascus, to allow in desperately needed aid and avoid a repeat of the devastation seen in Aleppo.

“We need a 72-hour pause for Eastern Ghouta, and we need it in the coming days,” the head of the United Nations-backed humanitarian taskforce for Syria, Jan Egeland, told reporters in Geneva.

He warned that the some 400,000 people besieged in the area near Damascus “are now suffering alone in the sense that they have a shortage of medical supplies, their hospitals have been bombed, and they are running out of food and other supplies.”

Eastern Ghouta, the last remaining opposition stronghold near the capital, has been under a devastating government siege since 2012, and is targeted regularly by air strikes and artillery.

During the weekly meeting of the humanitarian taskforce for Syria, co-chairs Russia and the United States, along with others had agreed to “look specifically at the Eastern Ghouta situation,” Egeland said.

“Everybody agrees, including the Russians, that the situation there is very dire, and that a special ... agreement is needed for Eastern Ghouta,” he said.

“Nobody wants another eastern Aleppo to be happening on our watch,” he insisted, referring to the drawn-out siege and massive Syrian army offensive last year to retake the former rebel stronghold.

“We should learn from the horrific inability to help civilians there, and I am still hopeful that we will have arrangements for the 400,000 people in the Eastern Ghouta besieged areas,” Egeland said, pointing out that “there are more people besieged east of Damascus city than there were in the east Aleppo besieged enclave.”

Thursday’s taskforce meeting also discussed the suspected chemical attack that left at least 86 people dead, 30 of them children, in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun in northwestern Syria earlier this week.

“A war where children suffocate to death because of toxic chemicals is a very, very dirty war,” Egeland said.

Tuesday’s attack so shocked US President Donald Trump that Washington has threatened unilateral US action, marking an about-face after he previously opposed deeper US military involvement in Syria’s civil war.

Egeland stressed that he did not believe in a military solution to Syria’s six-year war, which has already killed more than 320,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes.

But “what I do welcome is a renewed interest from the US to focus on the carnage in Syria,” he said.

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