UN calls for month-long truce to deliver aid in Syria

Air strikes intensified after first downing of a Russian jet in the civil war on Saturday

Syrians reportedly suffering from breathing difficulties following Syrian regime air strikes on the northwestern town of Saraqeb rest  at a field hospital.  Photograph: Omar Hajkadour/AFP/Getty

Syrians reportedly suffering from breathing difficulties following Syrian regime air strikes on the northwestern town of Saraqeb rest at a field hospital. Photograph: Omar Hajkadour/AFP/Getty

 

The UN called for a one-month truce to deliver aid to Syria as Russian-backed government forces pummelled rebel-held pockets. Opposition activists say dozens of people have been killed and at least three hospitals shut down in the past two days.

Air strikes have intensified since militants shot down a Sukhoi SU 25 in northwestern Idlib province on Saturday, the first known downing of a Russian jet in Syria.

Moscow reported on Tuesday it had repatriated the pilot’s remains with the help of neighbouring Turkey, which has deployed forces in Idlib. After an uneasy calm on Sunday morning, activists reported a greater frequency of air strikes by evening.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group in the UK with activists across Syria, said more than 48 people were confirmed dead by early afternoon on Tuesday. A day earlier, it said, 30 had been killed, and reported more than 40 air strikes on the Ghouta region, the last opposition-controlled area near the Syrian capital.

In northwestern Idlib, air strikes shut down three medical centres, according to the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations, which supports hospitals in conflict zones.

Both areas are among the last opposition strongholds in Syria’s seven-year civil war, and are meant to be part of Russian-brokered “de-escalation zones”. Instead, both have been targets of a renewed offensive by president Bashar al-Assad’s forces in recent months.

Humanitarian organisations have been criticising the de-escalation zone deal since late 2017, arguing it won international approval, not least from the UN, because it was meant to increase humanitarian access. Instead, the UN in Damascus this week said it has been unable to enter areas in need for two months.

Extremely troubling

“If access was granted, three convoys could be dispatched each week, reaching over 700,000 people in these areas in two months,” the UN said.

Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said investigations into attacks on Idlib and eastern Ghouta region were under way.

“These reports are extremely troubling and make a mockery of the so-called de-escalation zones,” Mr Pinheiro said. He labelled the government siege and indiscriminate shelling of eastern Ghouta “international crimes”.

Mr Assad, with Russian and Iranian support, has gained the upper hand in the Syrian war. Russia has tried to turn that military advantage into diplomatic gains through peace negotiations. But Moscow appears to be facing resistance from its own side, as government forces continue to press for territorial gains.

From Idlib, activists uploaded videos of bombed hospitals, including footage of newborn babies struggling to breathe after their incubators lost power.

“It’s really violent,” said Tareq Abdelhaq, an activist. “They’re targeting critical areas for life, like the hospitals . . . the destruction they are causing is really increasing, and that’s more worrying than the intensity of the strikes.”

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018