Vladimir Putin defies UN by ordering temporary ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta

Vladimir Putin defies UN by ordering temporary ceasefire in Eastern GhoutaVladimir Putin defied the UN on Monday by ordering a series of brief daily ceasefires in the besieged enclave of Eastern Ghouta but refusing to meet the Security Council’s demand for a full 30-day truce across all of Syria. Nine days into an intensive bombing campaign which has killed more than 500 civilians, the Russian president said he would allow for a daily five-hour “humanitarian pause” starting Tuesday and lasting from 9am until 2pm each day.  He also said Russia would begin setting up a “humanitarian corridor” to allow some of the 400,000 civilians inside Eastern Ghouta to leave the area for regime-held neighbourhoods.  “On the instructions of the Russian president, with the goal of avoiding civilian casualties in Eastern Ghouta, from February 27 - tomorrow - from 9am to 2pm there will be a humanitarian pause,” said Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister.  Mr Putin’s order came two days after all 15 members of the UN Security Council, including Russia, voted unanimously to impose a month-long nationwide ceasefire across the whole of Syria.  Mr Putin's orders fell far short of the UN's demand Credit: Sergei Karpukhin/Pool Photo via AP, File The UN also demanded that combatants allow aid to be delivered to besieged areas and for medical teams to evacuate the wounded. Mr Putin’s instructions did not appear to address either of those issues.  The UK denounced the Kremlin's instructions as "cynical games". “That is not compliance, that is not implementation of the resolution passed on Saturday," said Jonathan Allen, the UK's deputy ambassador to the UN.  "If it is able to do a five-hour pause it is able to do a 24-hour pause. It’s up to Russia whether it wants to implement fully the resolution it signed up to and voted for, or if it wants to play cynical games." Even a brief lull in the fighting could go some way to easing the humanitarian suffering in Eastern Ghouta, giving residents time to leave their makeshift basement bomb shelters to find food and supplies.  But people were deeply sceptical as the news of Mr Putin’s ceasefire order spread. “The Russians are laughing at laughing at the world,” said one medic. “They don’t care about human blood and they don’t care about the resolution of the UN security council.” Haitham, a father sheltering in a basement with his four-year-old son, shrugged at the news. “We don’t rely much on the dead conscience of Russia,” he said.  Activists said bombing was slightly less intense on Monday than it had been before the UN Security Council vote on Saturday. But aerial attacks continued and ground fighting still raged between rebel forces and regime troops. An airstrike on the Douma neighbourhood killed ten people, nine of whom were from one family, according to the Syria Observatory for Human Rights. Photographs showed the dead of the Hitawi family wrapped in white shrounds. Rescuers were unable to find several bodies beneath the rubble.  The Observatory also said a young boy died Sunday night from a suspected regime chemical weapons attack, which injured another 13 people. Russia denied the regime had used chemical weapons and said rebels may have staged the attack as “a provocation”. Multiple UN investigations have concluded that the Syrian regime has regularly used chemical weapons, including in a 2013 attack in Eastern Ghouta which the US estimates killed more than 1,400 people.  Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has said in the past that France would carry out strikes against the regime in response to chemical weapons attacks. There was no immediate comment from Paris on the alleged chlorine attack.  Russia set up “humanitarian corridors” during the siege of East Aleppo in 2016, saying that civilians should use the corridors to exit rebel-held areas and come to safety on the regime side.  Few civilians ultimately used the corridors and the two sides exchanged angry accusations over them.  Russia said the rebels refused to allow civilians out. The rebels said civilians would rather stay under siege than risk torture and death in the Assad regime’s prisons.  Earlier in the day, the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, demanded that the ceasefire in Syria be implemented on the terms laid out in Saturday’s Security Council resolution.  "Security Council resolutions are only meaningful if they are effectively implemented,” he said. "That is why I expect the resolution to be immediately implemented and sustained.” A video posted online by a member of the Tiger Forces, a special forces unit involved in the attack on Eastern Ghouta, gave a sense of the mood among regime troops. Crouching on a balcony he gestured towards smoke rising from airstrikes on the besieged suburb. “Yes, there was a meeting in the security council but what’s important for is that Ghouta is behind me and the Syrian Arab Army will liberate it,” he said.




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