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Middle East

Eastern Ghouta civilians fear 'another Aleppo'

media Smoke rises over Eastern Ghouta, 27 February 2018. REUTERS/ Bassam Khabieh

Russia's call for a five-hour daily humanitarian pause in the beseiged Syrian neighbourhood of Eastern Ghouta has failed to stop the bombing. A ceasefire plan designed to allow civilians to evacuate came into effect yesterday but the UN says that none of the 1,000 or so wounded managed to get out.
 

After a brief lull, residents say government planes resumed their air strikes on the suburb near Damascus.

Moscow meanwhile has accused the rebels of breaking the truce.

Opposition fighter Osama al-Amri told RFI the supposed pause in fighting was "laughable" and that regime aircraft renewed their missions almost as soon as the announcement of the ceasfire was made.

"The main thing is that there is no trust from the civilians down in Ghouta right now," reported RFI Cairo correspondent Mat Nashed, who had been contacting Eastern Ghouta residents.

"They have no trust in the ceasefire or the countries that brokered it, particularly Russia or the regime. In their minds, they've been under siege for about five years and they've been bombed indiscriminately for that entire time, so for them it's not surprising that the alleged ceasefire was violated practically as soon as it was announced."

Another Aleppo?

"People I've spoken to are worried that this could be another episode like Aleppo, this would mean forced evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people from Ghouta.They don't want to leave, this is their home, they don't want to leave".

Nashed described a testimony that particularly moved him.

"I spoke to a colleague a few hours ago. He held the phone in the air and I could hear the shelling in the area during the alleged 9.00am to 2.00pm ceasfire. His testimony stands out because, if the regime does move into the area, much like in the case of Aleppo, nobody really knows what's going to happen.

"Some are worried that they could be jailed or tortured or even killed. Others are worried their things could be confiscated or worried they will be forcibly displaced. In his case, he's really worried in terms of what his fate could be, whether or not he'll be alive and able to do his job."

The "humanitarian pause" ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin echoes a similar tactic employed by Russia and the Syrian regime during the battle to force rebels out of Aleppo in 2016.

Russia's limitations

A top US general accused Moscow of playing an "incredibly destabilising" role in Syria by claiming it wants to settle the civil war while at the same time stoking the conflict.

Our correspondent in Moscow, Tom Lowe says this latest setback underscores Russia's limitations in the seven-year conflict. Its attempts to hold a peace conference and discuss the Syrian constitution at a summit in Sochi fell apart.

In a separate development, US media is reporting that North Korea has been sending equipment to Syria that could be used in chemical weapons manufacturing.

The New York Times refers to an unreleased UN report which says materials such as acid-resistant tiles, valves and pipes have been sent.

It also reports that Pyongyang's missile specialists have also been seen at Syrian weapon-making facilities.

The allegations come after new reports of chlorine gas being used by Syrian forces, which the government denies.

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