The Russian government has instructed Syria to initiate a daily five-hour cease-fire to allow civilians to evacuate eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus. Ghouta is currently held by rebels who oppose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and has been heavily bombarded by Assad’s military. It’s the last territory bordering the Syrian capital to still be under rebel control.
The cease-fire would take place daily, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m, and would not extend to any members of the al-Nusra terrorist group in the area.
However, as recently as Friday, Russia was blocking a U.N proposal for a 30-day cease-fire to bring humanitarian relief to the country. When that U.N. resolution finally passed Saturday after days of deliberation, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley criticized her Russian counterpart for stalling: "In the three days it took us to adopt this resolution, how many mothers lost their kids to the bombing and shelling? How many more images did we need to see of fathers holding their dead children? All for nothing, because here we are voting for a cease-fire that could have saved lives days ago."
The Syrian government has yet to agree to the daily cease-fire proposed by Russia.
The United States and the United Nations have been pushing Russia to pressure Assad to end the conflict. On Feb. 25, both Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron called Russian President Vladimir Putin to plead with him to lend his support to a cease-fire. As one of the Syrian dictator’s few allies, Russian support would be crucial to any peace deal. Putin intervened in the conflict in 2015, effectively rescuing Assad when the rebels were making headway.
As Syria’s seven-year-long civil war drags on, civilians have been among the hardest hit. According to Reuters: “On Sunday, health authorities there [in Ghouta] said several people had suffered symptoms consistent with chlorine gas exposure and on Monday, rescue workers and a war monitor said seven small children were killed by air and artillery strikes in one town.”
The same article states that at least 556 people have been killed in Ghouta in the past week.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, denied these reports, saying that such accusations against Assad were propaganda meant to undermine the cease-fire.
Use of chemical weapons would not be a new move for the regime. In 2017, Syria came under swift condemnation from the United States and the international community for using sarin gas, a nerve agent, against civilians in a rebel-held town. Eighty-nine
people were reported to have been killed in that attack.
According to U.N. estimates, 400,000 Syrians have been killed since the Syrian civil war started. An additional 5 million have fled the country.