Violence drops in Syrian capital, its suburbs after UN vote

BEIRUT (AP) — Despite a drop in intensity, shelling and bombardment in the Syrian capital and its embattled eastern suburbs killed at least six people Sunday following the U.N. Security Council’s unanimous approval of a resolution demanding a 30-day cease-fire across Syria, opposition activists and residents of Damascus said.

Attacks on residential areas appear to have shifted to strikes on front lines where some of the most intense fighting took place throughout the day between government forces and their allies against insurgents. State media said that troops pushed into the eastern suburbs, reports that the opposition denied.

Opposition activists reported 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. During the day Sunday, more shelling and airstrikes were reported in eastern Ghouta and Damascus.

The drop in violence 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 the 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 added that clashes between troops and rebels on Sunday were the most intense this month.

Syrian state TV said that the army captured several buildings in the rebel-held suburb of Harasta and pushed into several other areas on eastern Ghouta that is besieged by government forces from all sides. It also said that troops captured the small towns of Nashabiyeh, Hazrama and Housh al-Salihiyah on the southeastern edge of eastern Ghouta.

The Ghouta Media Center, an activist collective, said members of the Army of Islam insurgent group repelled the Syrian army’s attacks on several fronts adding that many soldiers were killed.

The push by the army, although still limited, appears to be similar to steps taken in rebel-held eastern neighborhoods of the northern city of Aleppo that government forces captured one after another until rebels eventually agreed to leave the city in December 2016, marking President Bashar Assad’s biggest victory since the conflict began in 2011.

“The Assad regime and his allies have shown no respect to the Security Council by launching their most intense offensive on Ghouta from several directions hours after the resolution was adopted,” said Ghouta-based activist Ahmad Khanshour. He added that government forces “did not succeed in advancing one meter.”

Asked whether people were able to leave their underground shelters where they have been hiding for days with little food and water, Khanshour said: “We are still underground and dying.” Khanshour added that he is hiding with 45 others in a shelter and they have been surviving on rice, crushed wheat and pasta.

The Observatory said Sunday’s airstrikes and shelling killed eight people and wounded dozens in several areas in eastern Ghouta. The opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense, also known as White Helmets, said the six were killed in the towns of Saqba, Beit Sawa, Arbeen and Hammouriyeh.

State news agency SANA said insurgents breached the truce by firing 15 shells Sunday on government-held areas on the edge of Ghouta.