Guterres appeal for cessation of hostilities in Ghouta

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The United Nations Secretary General has described the plight of some 400 000 people trapped in a rebel enclave in Syria as living in hell on earth.

Speaking in the Security Council on a related subject, Antonio Guterres broke away from his prepared remarks to appeal to Council members for an immediate cessation of hostilities given the urgency of the situation in Eastern Ghouta, where the total death toll has exceeded 300 since Sunday with more 1 000 injured.

It is the largest major area near the capital Damascus still under rebel control. Home to almost half a million people, it has been besieged by government forces for years, but since Sunday it has been a scene of intensified efforts by Syria’s military to retake the area.

“I am deeply saddened by the terrible suffering of the civilian population in eastern Ghouta – 400,000 people that live in hell on earth. I know that very important consultations are taking place in this council, aiming at a cessation of hostilities during one month in Syria, with a number of conditions, and of course, I fully support that effort, but I believe eastern Ghouta cannot wait,” said Guterres.

Council is currently considering a Swedish and Kuwaiti drafted resolution that would demand a 30-day ceasefire in Syria with a vote on the draft expected in the coming days. But Russia – a staunch ally of the Syrian Government – had indicated the draft was not realistic.

The Syrian military has denied it is targeting civilians, rather that trying to liberate the area from terrorists who also operate there including a Jihadist alliance linked to al-Qaeda.

“My appeal to all those is for an immediate suspension of all war activities in eastern Ghouta, allowing for humanitarian aid to reach all those in need, allowing for the evacuation of an estimated 700 people that need urgent treatment that cannot be provided there, and creating also the possibility for other civilians to be effectively treated in the site. This is a human tragedy that is unfolding in front of our eyes, and I don’t think we can let things go on happening in this horrendous way.”

The United States Ambassador Nikki Haley also weighed in.

“I think that it time for us to realize that we can’t continue to look away and I very much appreciate you taking the time to make that personal plea. I think its important for all of us to know,” she said.

The UN has condemned the bombardments of the area which has included strikes against hospitals and other civilian infrastructure, warning that they could amount to war crimes.