Iran Says Damascus Suburbs Assault to Continue as Fighting Rages

BEIRUT (Reuters) -
A young man cleans a damaged house in the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syria, on Sunday. (Reuters/Bassam Khabieh)

Iran said pro-Damascus forces would press ahead with attacks on an insurgent enclave near the Syrian capital, as ground fighting raged on there in defiance of a U.N. resolution demanding a 30-day truce across the country.

Turkey, too, said its military operations in another theater of war in the north of Syria would not be affected by the unanimous Security Council vote demanding the truce to allow for aid access and medical evacuations.

Anti-government rebels said they clashed with pro-government forces near Damascus on Sunday, as rescuers and residents said warplanes struck some towns in the eastern Ghouta pocket.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said air strikes and artillery killed nine people and injured 31 in the eastern suburbs. The UK-based monitoring group said Sunday’s bombing was less intense than attacks over the past week.

There was no immediate comment from the Syrian military.

The latest escalation by Damascus and its allies has killed more than 500 people in the enclave over the last week, the Observatory says. The dead included more than 120 children.

Signaling the war remained a top focus of world leaders, the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin and French and German counterparts Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel spoke by phone and discussed the ceasefire’s implementation.

Iranian General Mohammad Baqeri, whose government backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said Tehran and Damascus would respect the U.N. resolution.

But the Iranian military chief of staff also said the truce did not cover parts of the Damascus suburbs “held by the terrorists,” the Tasnim news agency said.

In Ankara, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said the U.N. resolution would not affect Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria’s Kurdish-held Afrin region.

Turkey launched an assault last month on Afrin, seeking to drive out the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia which it deems a menace along its border.

Several ceasefires have unraveled quickly during the seven-year war in Syria, where Assad’s military has gained the upper hand with the help of Iran and Russia.

The U.N. resolution on Saturday followed seven straight days of bombing by pro-government forces on eastern Ghouta, in one of the bloodiest offensives of the war.