Syrian Capital, Suburbs Calm After U.N. Ceasefire Vote

People are seen in the besieged town of Hamoria, eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria, in January. (Reuters/ Bassam Khabieh)

The Syrian capital and its embattled eastern suburbs were relatively calm on Sunday, following the U.N. Security Council’s unanimous approval of a resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire across Syria, opposition activists and residents of Damascus said.

The activists reported a few violations, including some clashes, on the southern edge of the rebel-held suburbs, known as eastern Ghouta, and two airstrikes late on Saturday night, shortly after the resolution was adopted.

The calm came after a week of intense airstrikes and shelling that killed more than 500 people in eastern Ghouta and left dozens dead or wounded in  government-held Damascus, which rebels pelted with mortar shells.

“This has been the calmest night since last Sunday,” said Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, referring to the start of the bombing campaign on Feb. 19. He said there have been no deaths reported since the resolution passed.

Ghouta-based opposition activist Anas al-Dimashqi said the night was calm but warplanes and drones were flying over rebel-held areas. He said several explosions were heard Sunday in Ghouta.

Dr. Sakhr al-Dimashqi, a surgeon at a clinic in Ghouta, told The Associated Press that several shells hit some towns in the suburbs, adding that they received six wounded people at the clinic where he works.

“The shelling today is not as intense as over the past week,” he said.

The two largest and most powerful rebel factions in Ghouta, Failaq al-Rahman and Army of Islam, issued statements saying they will abide by the ceasefire unless they are forced to fire in self-defense. Both called for the “immediate delivery” of emergency aid.

The resolution excludes members of the Islamic State group and al-Qaida-linked terrorists. Ghouta is also home to a few hundred members of the al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee.

Damascus residents said there’s more traffic in the streets, compared to previous days, and most schools and universities were open on Sunday. They said some private schools were still closed, especially those close to the front lines with Ghouta.

Saturday’s vote at the United Nations came after the vote was delayed from Friday. Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia had repeatedly called an immediate ceasefire unrealistic.

In a bid to get Russian support, sponsors Kuwait and Sweden amended the draft resolution late Friday to drop a demand that the ceasefire take effect 72 hours after the resolution’s adoption.

After two hours of additional negotiations on Saturday, the Security Council unanimously approved the resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire across Syria “without delay” to deliver humanitarian aid to millions and evacuate the critically ill and wounded.

After the vote, many council members urged stepped-up efforts to ensure a ceasefire and get assistance to millions in need.

Russia has been a main backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad since the country’s conflict began seven years ago. In 2015, Moscow joined the war on Assad’s side, tipping the balance of power in his favor.

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