UN Hopes to Enter Syria's Eastern Ghouta in 'Next Few Days'

Military police stand guard between portraits of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin outside a guard-post at a checkpoint near Damascus neighboring the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta region. (LOUAI BESHARA/AFP)
Military police stand guard between portraits of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin outside a guard-post at a checkpoint near Damascus neighboring the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta region. (LOUAI BESHARA/AFP)

The United Nations said Thursday it hoped aid convoys could head into Syria's besieged rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta within days, after the Damascus government appeared to have finally provided authorization.

"We may now be able to go to Eastern Ghouta in the next few days," said Jan Egeland, head of the UN's humanitarian taskforce for Syria.

He told reporters in Geneva that he had received word during a taskforce meeting on Thursday "that we may have the first facilitation letter, permit from the government, to go to (the main Eastern Ghouta town of) Douma in a very long time."

But he stressed that the five-hour daily "humanitarian pause" in fighting declared by Russia for the enclave was not enough to allow aid deliveries or ensure orderly medical evacuations.

"Five hours is not enough," he insisted, underscoring that aid deliveries take time and that an estimated 1,000 civilians also desperately needed medical evacuation.

More than 40 trucks loaded with much needed aid have so far been unable to reach the 400,000 people living in the battered enclave.

Egeland's comments came as civilians in Eastern Ghouta continued to shun Russia's offer to quit the area, and as rebels and Moscow blamed each other for the humanitarian deadlock.

A five-hour daily "pause" announced by Moscow on Monday has led to a reduction in the bombardment that killed hundreds in only a few days and sparked global outrage last month.

But the humanitarian corridor offered by Russia for civilians to flee has remained ostensibly empty for a third day, with distrust running high on both sides.

Avoid Aleppo repeat

The Russian declaration fell far short of a full 30-day ceasefire voted for by the United Nations Security Council last Saturday, which has yet to be implemented.

Egeland voiced disappointment that the countries who unanimously voted through the Security Council resolution had not been able to ensure its implementation.

He stressed that the catastrophe unfolding in Eastern Ghouta "is no tsunami."

"It is not a natural disaster, it is man-made from A-Z, and I think the sponsors of the armed groups can do more to hold them back," he said.

The UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura meanwhile said the UN would "not give up in asking for the full implementation of the resolution 2401."

"We will continue asking until we are red in the face, blue in the face, for both sides… to stop shelling each others' areas, and for convoys to be allowed" in, he told reporters in Geneva.

He said the UN was determined not to see a repeat of what happened in Syria's second city of Aleppo in 2016, when Russia and the Syrian regime also deployed a "humanitarian pause" as they looked to force out rebels.

"We cannot see a copycat of Aleppo taking place," De Mistura said.

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