UN Pleads for Trauce, as Air Strikes Again Hit Syria’s Ghouta

Warplanes pounded the last rebel enclave near Syria’s capital for a fifth day running on Thursday as the U.N. Security Council considered demanding a 30-day ceasefire across the country to allow emergency aid deliveries and medical evacuations.

The U.N. envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, pleaded for a truce to halt one of the fiercest air assaults of the seven-year civil war and prevent a “massacre” in the besieged eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of Damascus.

At least 416 people have been killed in eastern Ghouta since Sunday night, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, with more than 2,100 wounded from the assault by Syria’s military and its allies.

Planes have struck residential areas in the enclave of 400,000 people and, said medical charities, hit more than a dozen hospitals, making it near impossible to treat the wounded.

Panos Moumtzis, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Syria, said households in eastern Ghouta were without food, water or electricity in winter cold and 80 percent of the population of the town of Harasta was living underground.

“There is a need for avoiding a massacre, because we will be judged by history,” Mistura said, urging the U.N. Security Council to act. The Council was meeting on Thursday to discussion the situation at the request of Russia.

President Bashar al-Assad’s main ally Russia, which wields a veto on the Security Council, said it could support a 30-day truce, but not one that included the Islamist militants it says the onslaught on eastern Ghouta is meant to target.

Aid workers and residents say Syrian army helicopters have been dropping “barrel bombs” – oil drums packed with explosives and shrapnel – on marketplaces and medical centers.

Residents and insurgents in eastern Ghouta say Russian planes are also involved. Syrians say they can identify Russian aircraft because they fly at higher altitude than Syrian planes.

Damascus and Moscow deny using barrel bombs or hitting civilians. They say rebels hold civilians as human shields.

PROPOSED TRUCE

The Security Council was considering a resolution, drafted by Kuwait and Sweden, that demands “a cessation of hostilities throughout Syria for all military operations except those directed at the Islamic State … al Qaeda and al Nusra Front” for 30 days to allow aid deliveries and medical evacuations.

Swedish U.N. Ambassador Olof Skoog said he hoped the Council could vote on the resolution on Thursday. But Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said he would propose amendments to the text for “it to be realistic.”

Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelley Currie accused Russia of “appearing to be intent on blocking any meaningful effort” to halt the bloodshed in eastern Ghouta.

“What we need is a sustained cessation of hostilities and we need it desperately,” U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock told the gathering. “Millions of battered and beleaguered children, women and men depend on meaningful action by this Council.”

Previous attempts at a cessation of hostilities in Syria have quickly unraveled.

Residents of Douma, the biggest town in eastern Ghouta, described plumes of black smoke billowing from residential areas after planes dropped bombs from high altitude.

Searches were under way for bodies amid the rubble in the town of Saqba and elsewhere, said rescuers.

Syrian army helicopters dropped fliers over eastern Ghouta, according to a media unit run by Assad’s Lebanese Hezbollah ally.

The fliers called on civilians to hand themselves over to the Syrian army in order to save their lives, with a passage highlighted on a map for a safe journey out of eastern Ghouta.

“RAINING BOMBS”

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