UN: Syrian government ‘agrees Eastern Ghouta truce’

UN envoy says Syria has agreed to Russian proposal for ceasefire in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta after days of bombardment.

U.N. Special Envoy for Syria de Mistura arrives to talk to the media after a meeting with the HNC in Geneva
Mistura said Russia proposed and Syria approved the Eastern Ghouta ceasefire [Denis Balibouse/Reuters]

Shelling has killed at least three people in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta, according to a monitoring group, just hours before the UN announced that Syria’s government had agreed to a ceasefire in the rebel-held area, after days of intense bombardment.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported the death toll, a day after air raids in the besieged district on the outskirts of Damascus killed at least 19 people.

The report came as opposition delegates gathered in Geneva on Tuesday for a new round of UN-sponsored talks.

Government representatives were expected to arrive in the Swiss city on Wednesday.

However, there is little optimism for progress towards ending the Syrian conflict, now in its seventh year.

Russian proposal

Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy for Syria, said in Geneva the government of President Bashar al-Assad had agreed to a Russian plan for a truce in the rebel-controlled enclave.

“Russia has proposed and the government has accepted a ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta,” he said, noting that he learned of the proposal from a Russian ambassador, during an earlier meeting of envoys from the five Security Council permanent representatives: the UK, US, France, China and Russia.

“Now we need to see whether this [ceasefire] takes place, but it is not coincidental that this was actually proposed and agreed upon just the day of the beginning of this session [in Geneva],” he added.

Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from Geneva, said the opposition delegates there are “likely to welcome” the ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta.

“There really is, at the moment, only one side that is involved in military action there, and that is the Syrian government with their onslaught, their aerial bombardment that has been going on for days and days now and causing such agony for the people there,” he said.

Attacks on Eastern Ghouta over the past two weeks have killed more than 100 people, according to SOHR, which monitors developments in Syria’s conflict via a network of sources on the ground.

De-escalation zone

Eastern Ghouta was hit even though it was listed as a “de-escalation zone”, where military activity is prohibited under an agreement endorsed by Turkey, Russia, and Iran, in separate talks with Syrian government and opposition delegates in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana.

Rebels in Eastern Ghouta have managed to keep Syrian military forces at bay during years of war; however, a government siege of the district has led to a humanitarian crisis with severe shortages of food and medicine.

After months of stalemate, the eighth round of the Geneva talks is expected to focus primarily on a new constitution and elections, two of the four so-called “baskets” of reforms laid out by the UN for a political settlement to the Syria crisis.

Source: Al Jazeera