By Scott Lucas – eaworldview – February 27, 2018 – Moscow tries to create space for ongoing attacks and siege through limited “humanitarian pause” each day
Trying to shift pressure onto the opposition in besieged and bombarded East Ghouta, near Syria’s capital Damascus, Russia is pursuing a version of the strategy used for the capitulation of eastern Aleppo city in December 2016.
Moscow faced a possible diplomatic challenge after it refused to accept a defined ceasefire for the area with more than 350,000 people, supporting a UN Security Council resolution only when a timetable for implementation was removed. That maneuver is allowing pro-Assad forces to continue attacks in which more than 500 people have been killed and hundreds wounded since February 18.
On Sunday, both French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke by phone with Russian leader Vladimir Putin to urge him to accept a meaningful arrangement in which attacks can be halted and aid — blocked by the Assad regime under a tightening five-year siege — can reach East Ghouta.
Yesterday Putin responded by ordering a daily “humanitarian pause” from 9 am to 2 pm in the territory, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. Putin’s order did not offer any check to attack the other 19 hours of the day, and it made no commitment to allow assistance into the area, where scores of people died from lack of food and medicine even before the recent surge in the pro-Assad assault.
Instead, the Defense Ministry said civilians could leave via “evacuation corridors”.
Moscow pursued the same tactics in and near opposition-held eastern Aleppo city in 2016. After establishing a siege from July and continuously bombing targets, including medical facilities and a UN aid convoy, Russia held back any freeze on the assault by proposing the “humanitarian pauses” for a portion of each day and by proclaiming the “humanitarian corridors”.
The pro-Assad attacks, including Russian warplanes, continued on eastern Aleppo, and the corridors never materialized. Instead, the opposition finally surrendered in December, with an estimated 50,000 people removed from the city to other parts of Syria and many men who remained taken into detention or forced into conscription in the Assad regime’s military.
Russia’s Propaganda Campaign
Russian officials immediately used Putin’s order to bolster their campaign justifying the ongoing bombing, shelling, and rocketing of East Ghouta, albeit for 19 rather than 24 hours each day.Major-General Yuri Yevtushenko, the head of the Russian “Center for Reconciliation” in Syria, accused rebels of “holding hundreds hostage, including women and children, and victimizing residents, refusing to allow them to leave”.Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sought cover for the Assad regime’s alleged chlorine attack on East Ghouta on Sunday, declaring that “disinformation” about the assault could sabotage ceasefire agreements.Lavrov said, “There has already been disinformation in the mass media that last night or this morning chlorine gas was used in Eastern Ghouta as a toxic substance, citing an anonymous individual who lives in the United States. Other disinformation is likely.”Earlier in the day, the Kremlin had rationalized attacks despite the Security Council’s unanimous call on Saturday for a 30-day ceasefire. Following Putin’s calls with Macron and Merkel, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian leader “emphasized that the ceasefire did not extend to military operations against terrorist groupings in Syria”.Peskov also reinforced the Defense Ministry’s false claim that rebels were trying to blame the Assad regime for its alleged chlorine attack, by setting up a “false flag” operation with chemical weapons.