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Fighting continues in Syria enclave despite truce: UN

By AFP

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A general view taken from Damascus shows smoke rising from Eastern Ghouta following fresh airstrikes and rocket fire on February 27th. [Stringer/AFP]

Fighting raged on in Syria's Eastern Ghouta on Tuesday (February 27th), making relief operations in the opposition enclave impossible despite a "humanitarian pause" announced by Russia, the UN said.

The daily five-hour respite, which began at 9:00 a.m., was announced by Russia under pressure from international powers anxious to stop more than a week of airstrikes, artillery fire and rockets that killed more than 500 people.

"Fighting continues this morning. That is what our reports from Eastern Ghouta tell us," said Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the UN humanitarian office.

"The UN is mobilised and ready to immediately support life-saving aid convoys to several areas in Eastern Ghouta as conditions allow," Laerke told reporters in Geneva.

"We are also ready and have plans for evacuation of hundreds of medical cases as soon as we can," he added, but underscored that it was currently "impossible" for the UN to authorise any aid operations for desperate civilians given the persisting clashes.

World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters that the agency has a list of 1,000 people who need medical evacuations from Eastern Ghouta, with 600 of those classified as being in "moderate or severe" condition.

On Tuesday, a Syrian regime rocket fire killed a boy in the town of Jisreen, where seven people were also wounded, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Opposition groups willing to expel extremist fighters

The main opposition groups in Syria's Eastern Ghouta said Tuesday they would be willing to expel extremist fighters from the enclave as soon as a UN ceasefire takes effect.

Eastern Ghouta, which lies just east of Damascus, is home to some 400,000 civilians and is controlled by myriad armed groups, some of which are only present in certain parts of the enclave.

The main forces include Jaish al-Islam, Faylaq al-Rahman and Ahrar al-Sham, who on Tuesday addressed a letter to the UN which was seen by AFP.

They declared their "complete commitment to deport" extremist fighters from Tahrir al-Sham, a group made up mostly of fighters from al-Nusra Front (ANF).

The letter said such an evacuation, which has been discussed previously but never yielded any result, would take 15 days and start when a UN truce takes effect.

The signatories said they wanted any evacuations to be conducted under the control and supervision of a UN-led co-ordination mechanism.

The Syrian government lost control of Eastern Ghouta, which lies just east of the capital Damascus, in 2012, and has besieged it almost ever since.

The main opposition groups have so far rejected Russian-brokered offers to evacuate civilians or any fighters of their own.

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