Iran said that attacks on “terrorists” outside Damascus would continue but that Tehran and the Syrian government would respect a 30-day United Nations cease-fire elsewhere in Syria.
Iran’s announcement came as Turkey said the cease-fire would not affect its military offensive in the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin in northern Syria.
The Iranian army’s chief of staff, General Mohammad Baqeri, was quoted by the semi-official Tasnim news agency as saying on February 25 that Iran and Syria would adhere to the cease-fire resolution passed a day earlier by the UN Security Council.
“Parts of the suburbs of Damascus, which are held by the terrorists, are not covered by the cease-fire, and clean-up [operations] will continue there,” Tasnim quoted Baqeri as saying.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said in televised comments on February 25 that the cease-fire would not have “any affect on the operation that Turkey is pursuing” in Afrin and Ankara would continue to pursue “terrorists.”
Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) that controls Afrin, a terrorist group and an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey.
Turkey last month launched an air-and-land military operation in Afrin.
The YPG said it was prepared to respect the cease-fire “while reserving the right to retaliate… in case of any aggression by the Turkish army.”
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces carried out fresh air strikes on the rebel enclave of eastern Ghouta in Damascus on February 25. It said at least seven civilians were killed and several dozen wounded.
The monitoring group, which said the bombing on February 25 was less intense than attacks over the past week, added that the clashes had killed 13 pro-regime combatants and six fighters from the rebel Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) group.
The Russian Foreign Ministry on February 25 called on anti-regime forces in Syria to adhere to the cease-fire.
“We count upon foreign patrons of anti-government militant groups…to ensure that their charges stop combat activities in the interests of the quickest and safe transit of humanitarian convoys,” the ministry said in a statement.
“We will watch this closely,” it added.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke by telephone on February 25 with Russian leader Vladimir Putin about the implementation of the 30-day UN cease-fire in Syria, the Kremlin said.
The Kremlin said that the three leaders agreed to speed up their “exchange of information” concerning Syria and stressed “the importance of continuing common efforts in the interests of the full implementation of the resolution as soon as possible.”
A German government spokesman, meanwhile, said that Merkel and Macron urged Putin to put “maximum” pressure on the Syrian government to halt the fighting in eastern Ghouta.
Macron’s office said earlier that discussions will focus on the “implementation of this resolution and on the political road map needed to achieve lasting peace in Syria.”
UN chief Antonio Guterres on February 24 called on all parties to implement the cease-fire “immediately” and that it be “sustained.”
A UN spokesman quoted Guterres as saying an immediate truce was necessary “particularly to ensure the immediate, safe, unimpeded, and sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and services, the evacuation of the critically sick and wounded and the alleviation of the suffering of the Syrian people.”
According to activists, Syrian government forces have killed more than 500 civilians during a week of intense bombardment in eastern Ghouta.
Russia, along with Iran, has given Assad’s government crucial support throughout the 7-year-old war in Syria, which began with a government crackdown on protests. Moscow helped turn the tide of the conflict in Assad’s favor by a launching a campaign of air strikes in 2015 and stepping up its military presence on the ground.
There has been a growing outcry from Western capitals, the United Nations, and humanitarian groups over the situation in Ghouta, which Guterres has called “hell on Earth.”
The UN says nearly 400,000 people live in the region, a pocket of satellite towns and farms under government siege for more than four years.
More than 2,400 people were said to have been injured there since government forces and their allies escalated their offensive on the Damascus suburb on February 18. Ten hospital and medical centers have reportedly been knocked out of service due to the bombardment.
U.S. President Donald Trump on February 23 accused Russia, Iran, and the Syrian government of being responsible for a “humanitarian disgrace” in Syria.
Source » rferl