Compromise gets Russia assent, but Moscow says ceasefire likely not viable
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UPDATE 1715 GMT: Al Jazeera English reports on Noor and Alaa — sisters who have been tweeting about the situation in East Ghouta — whose home was struck by a pro-Assad attack, injuring their father:
Syrian regime air strikes and shelling hit the home of two young girls Noor and Alaa, who have been tweeting about their lives in besieged eastern Ghouta pic.twitter.com/S0RHgpuKLE
— TRT World (@trtworld) February 25, 2018
UPDATE 1730 GMT: The outlet of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards is justifying ongoing pro-Assad attacks on East Ghouta with the declaration, “Jeish Al-Islam Militants Continue Attacks on Syrian Army Despite UN Ceasefire”.
Fars writes a scenario where the Assad regime’s artillery “destroyed a bomb-laden vehicle…before it could manage an attack on government forces’ positions” in Jobar in northeast Damascus.
Bizarrely, however, the article then gives away the real situation and undermines its propaganda, “Several media outlets reported earlier today that the Syrian Army troops launched an assault on a number of Al-Nusra-held districts in Eastern Ghouta and seized control over several key positions.”
Tasnim News undercuts Fars’ effort with the headline, “Syrian Forces Retake 5 Key Districts in Eastern Ghouta”, and the description, “Syrian troops and their allies began a major assault on the positions of terrorists in the suburbs of the capital”.
Earlier on Sunday, the head of Iran’s armed forces indicates that Tehran’s units, alongside the Assad regime’s military, will continue attacks in East Ghouta (see 0930 GMT).
UPDATE 1630 GMT: Turkey has said the UN call for ceasefire does not apply to its offensive against the Kurdish canton of Afrin in northwest Syria.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry welcomed the resolution “in response to the worsening humanitarian situation all across Syria, in particular in Eastern Ghouta”. However, Ankara “will remain resolute in fighting against the terrorist organisations that threaten the territorial integrity and political unity of Syria”.
UPDATE 1400 GMT: The pro-regime daily al-Watan, citing “field sources”, says Russian warplanes are involved in striking targets in East Ghouta.
UPDATE 0930 GMT: Iran has said that, alongside the Assad regime, it will continue the assault on East Ghouta despite the UN resolution calling for a ceasefire.
The head of Iran’s military, Gen. Mohammad Baqeri, said, “We will adhere to the ceasefire resolution, Syria will also adhere,” but he immediately modified the statement:
Parts of the suburbs of Damascus, which are held by the terrorists, are not covered by the ceasefire and clean-up will continue there.
Baqeri dismissed the sincerity of the effort to help civilians, “This time again, like in the past, those who do not want security and peace in Syria took up the banner of ceasefire in order to support terrorists after they saw the Syrian army and government were cleansing the Damascus suburbs.”
Assad forces continue to attack this morning. At least two airstrikes have been reported outside Douma, and shelling is reported on several areas, including more than 80 shells on Harasta. Four ground-to-ground missiles have also reportedly been fired on buildings in Jobar in northeast Damascus.
All eyes on Syria’s ceasefire this morning. White Helmets rescue teams in Eastern Ghouta continue to report air strikes and shelling, including the use of what appear to be incendiary munitions in Douma.
— Louisa Loveluck (@leloveluck) February 25, 2018
Message I got from a #Syrian civil society leader 30 minutes ago:
“Good morning Salman
The regime started a ground offense against East Ghouta.
The forces are trying to advance on 3 axis.”
— Salman Shaikh (@Salman_Shaikh1) February 25, 2018
One civilian killed in #Saqba city and another in #Hamouriya city so far, many others injured due to renewed aerial and artillery bombardment of most of the cities and towns of #EastGhouta.#SaveGhouta #Syria 25 Feb pic.twitter.com/mNE3ZdcXPS
— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) February 25, 2018
Pro-Assad outlet Al-Mayadeen claims the regime attacks were in response to firing by “Jabhat al-Nusra”, even though the hardline Islamic bloc has almost no presence in East Ghouta.
A pro-Assad social media activist is boasting of an ongoing assault:
#Syria #Damascus #EastGhouta #EasternGhouta #East_Ghouta #Eastern_Ghouta
The Syrian Arab Army begins a wide military operation towards Al-Shaifouniya and Hawsh Al-Dhawahra south western farms, beginning from points in the town of Hawsh Al-Dhawahra#SAA #SyrianArabArmy #SyrianArmy
— Ivan Sidorenko (@IvanSidorenko1) February 25, 2018
The pro-Assad blog Al-Masdar echoed: “The Syrian Arab Army’s 4th Division launched a big assault inside the the Harasta suburb of the East Ghouta, today, targeting several neighborhoods under the control of the jihadist rebels.”
ORIGINAL ENTRY: The UN Security Council voted unanimously on Saturday for a resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire in opposition-held East Ghouta, near Syria’s capital Damascus.
The text, presented by Sweden and Kuwait, will allow aid deliveries and medical evacuations to take place.
Russia, the Assad regime’s main ally, had held up a vote on the resolution which nominally would halt the pro-Assad bombing, shelling, and rocketing that has killed almost 500 people and wounded hundreds more since last Sunday in East Ghouta. It would also check the plans of the Assad regime and its allies for a ground offensive to overrun the territory, held by the opposition since 2012.
To ensure Russian acceptance, Council members watered down the 72-hour limit for the truce to begin. Instead. the final text said it should start “without delay” and all parties should “engage immediately to ensure full and comprehensive implementation”.
Moscow’s Vassily Nebenzia immediately posted a question mark over the ceasefire, saying that it is unlikely to be viable: “What is necessary is for the demands of the Security Council to be underpinned by concrete on the ground agreements.”
Minutes after the vote, Assad regime warplanes carried out more strikes. Rescuers searched for survivors after strikes on Kafr Batna, Douma, and Harasta during the day.
“We accept that it might take a number of hours before it can all be fully implemented….We just have to keep the pressure up, implementation is key now,” Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said.
But the Assad regime’s ambassador, Bashar al Ja’afari, set up the pretext for an ongoing assault:
We’re combating terrorism on our territories. Our government will reserve the right to respond as it deems appropriate in case those terrorist arms groups are targeting civilians in any part of Syria with even one single missile.
As it has attacked East Ghouta for months, the Assad regime has claimed that scores of casualties in Damascus from rocket and mortar fire have been caused by the East Ghouta rebels.
Ja‘afari also indicated that the Assad regime might link its compliance to a halt in the Turkish-rebel offensive against the Kurdish canton of Afrin in northwest Syria; in the US-supported, Kurdish-led operations against the Islamic State in the north and east of the country; and in periodic Israeli attacks on Assad regime and Iranian targets.
Ja’afari said the regime interprets the resolution as applying to “Turkish forces in Afrin, and the operations of the anti-ISIL coalition in Syria,…[and] Israeli forces in Syria, especially the occupied Syrian Golan”.
Meanwhile, a doctor in East Ghouta said on Saturday:
Amid the chaos and the bombs, it is the not being believed that almost hurts the most. We are dying here everyday and when people say they do not believe us, then that is pain upon pain.
White Helmets: Regime Bombed Damascus in Attack It Blamed on Rebels
The White Helmets civil defense has said that an Assad regime warplane attacked a Damascus neighborhood last week, in an attack that the regime blamed on “terrorists”.
A statement said a missile was fired on the Rukn al-Din district on Friday.
The rescuers said, “We take the opportunity to condemn the targeting of civilians by any party and any weapon.”
Leading Syrian Kurdish Activist Muslim Detained in Czech Republic
Salih Muslim, the former co-chair of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), was detained in the Czech capital Prague on Sunday.
Turkey has issued an arrest warrant and red notice for Muslim, on the grounds that the PYD is linked to the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK, which has been fighting Ankara’s security forces for more than 30 years. It posted a $1.05 million bounty for his capture.
The arrest comes amid the five-week offensive by a Turkish-rebel force against the Kurdish canton of Afrin in northwest Syria.