January 27, 2018 / 8:34 AM / 25 days ago

Bombardment continues in Syria's Ghouta after ceasefire talk

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Bombardment of the rebel-held eastern Ghouta area of Syria continued early on Saturday, a war monitor said, after an insurgent spokesman said late on Friday that Russia had promised to try to impose a ceasefire.

No ceasefire was formally announced by Russia or the Syrian government, whose army has besieged the enclave outside Damascus for years and has stepped up its bombardment there in recent months.

Five bombardments targeted eastern Ghouta overnight, including with rocket strikes and artillery shells said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Russia is the main external supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his war against rebels seeking to oust him.

A ninth round of U.N.-sponsored peace talks ended in Vienna on Friday without result.

Ayman al-Asemi, a member of the Free Syrian Army’s military council, said late on Friday that Russia had made a pledge to opposition negotiators in Vienna that it would press Damascus to enforce a ceasefire in eastern Ghouta.

However, Yahya al-Aridi, the spokesman of the opposition delegation in Vienna did not confirm there was a ceasefire agreement, saying only there were “negotiations about this”.

The Vienna talks ended with the opposition saying it would not attend a Syrian peace congress that Russia is holding next week in Sochi.

International concern has been rising over the fate of eastern Ghouta, where the United Nations says acute food and medicine shortages have contributed to the worst malnutrition seen in the Syrian civil war.

The enclave is home to almost 400,000 people and is in an agreed “de-escalation zone” under Russian-led truce deals for rebel-held territory, but the fighting there has continued.

Reporting By Angus McDowall Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.

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