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Syrian regime pounds Eastern Ghouta for sixth day as ceasefire vote looms

Smoke billows following Syrian government bombardments on Kafr Batna [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 February, 2018

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The UN Security Council will on Friday vote on a Russia-amended draft resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire in embattled Eastern Ghouta where more than 400 people have been killed.

The Russian-backed Syrian regime is continuing its bombardment of Eastern Ghouta, where the death toll has surpassed 400 in six days.

Fresh strikes on Friday killed nine civilians, including two children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported, bringing the total to 426.

The devastating campaign, which began on Sunday, has left at least 150 children dead. More than 2,000 people have been wounded.

At least a dozen hospitals have been hit, medical charities reported, making it nearly impossible to treat the wounded.

The UN's Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Misruta urged the security council to pass a Swedish-Kuwaiti-sponsored draft resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire.

"The humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta is appalling and, therefore, we need a ceasefire that stops both the horrific heavy bombardment of Eastern Ghouta and the indiscriminate mortar shelling on Damascus," he said.

Mortars from the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta are semi-regularly lobbed into nearby Damascus.

On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow would consider supporting the draft resolution if it did not cover fighters from the Islamic State and the al-Qaeda-linked Tahrir al-Sham.

Later in the day, Russian envoy to the UN Vassily Nebenzia called the reports of heavy civilian casualties "mass psychosis".

He told an emergency meeting at the Security Council that Russia would not support the draft resolution and later circulated a list of proposed amendments.

The UN Security Council will vote on the amended resolution at 4pm GMT on Friday.

Deputy US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Curie told the council on Thursday that the US was ready to vote on a ceasefire "right here and right now".

Diplomatic officials in the United States and Europe also criticised the Russian suggestion that the bombardment was needed to counter terrorism.

"It is simply preposterous to claim that these attacks on civilians have anything to do with fighting terrorism," the US envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, said.

Meanwhile, UK diplomat Stephen Hickey said that "less than a quarter of 1 per cent" of Eastern Ghouta were affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra. "The people of Eastern Ghouta are not terrorists," he added.

Eastern Ghouta, located on the outskirts of Damascus, is home to 400,000 people and has been under siege since 2013.

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