February 28, 2018 / 9:02 AM / 8 months ago

Lavrov says rebels blocking aid and evacuations in Syria's Ghouta

GENEVA (Reuters) - Russia said on Wednesday that militants in Syria’s besieged enclave of eastern Ghouta were blocking aid and the evacuation of people who want to leave, despite Moscow’s announcement of a humanitarian corridor.

Sergey Lavrov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Russia, attends the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would continue to support the Syrian army in totally defeating the “terrorist threat”.

“Now it is the turn to act for militants entrenched there, who still continue shelling Damascus, blocking aid deliveries and the evacuation of those wishing to leave, as well as for their sponsors.”

Hundreds of people have been killed in 11 days of bombing of eastern Ghouta, the last major rebel bastion near the capital, by Russian-backed Syrian government forces. The campaign, in a swathe of towns and farmland where 400,000 people are under siege, is one of the fiercest of a war now entering its eighth year.

Sergey Lavrov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Russia, attends the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Lavrov told reporters he did not think the war was getting worse.

“It’s getting worse for the terrorists from Jabhat al-Nusra, who willingly or unwillingly have been sustainably spared by the American coalition. And we raised this issue with Washington many times but there is no credible answer,” he said.

The U.N. Security Council, including veto-wielding member Russia, passed a resolution on Saturday calling for a 30-day ceasefire across all Syria, but it excludes militant groups on the U.N. terrorism blacklist, which Moscow and Damascus say are the targets of their “anti-terrorism campaign”.

“As the conditions to announce this ceasefire throughout Syria are getting ripe, we are not waiting,” Lavrov said.

Russia has proposed five-hour daily truces in eastern Ghouta, to allow residents to leave and aid to enter the enclave through what it describes as a humanitarian corridor.

Sergey Lavrov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Russia, walks past a statue in an exhibition hall outside the Human Rights Council conference hall, at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The first such truce, on Tuesday, failed when bombing and shelling resumed after a brief lull. Moscow and Damascus accused the rebels of attacking the corridor, which the rebels deny.

“Parallel to this, of course, we believe that the conditions are ripe for resuming the political process,” Lavrov said, adding that he had met U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura and discussed starting the “real work” on a new constitution.

Lavrov’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters that Russia was doing its part to establish the ceasefire, but other countries needed to act as well. Russia was “still assisting with the counter-terrorist operation”, since the ceasefire plan backed by the Security Council excluded terrorists, she said.

Asked about the deaths of children in the bombing, she said children from families supporting President Bashar al-Assad had also been killed, and Russia had entered the war in 2015 to protect them and to stop the violence spreading to Russia:

“How about seven years ago when the West supported this Arabic Spring thing and everybody was so enthusiastic about that, did you at that time think about children? No, nobody.

“Everybody was thinking about democracy. And now you are thinking about the children. Don’t you think it’s too late for the West to start thinking about the children?”

Reporting by Tom Miles; Writing by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Peter Graff and Kevin Liffey

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