Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a daily five-hour truce and the creation of a "humanitarian corridor" to allow civilians to leave the rebel-held Syrian enclave of eastern Ghouta, Russia's defence minister was quoted as saying.
In one of the bloodiest offensives of Syria's civil war, eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus controlled by opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, has been subject to heavy bombardment by government forces. Russia is Assad's most powerful ally.
"With the aim of eliminating casualties among the civilian population of eastern Ghouta, a daily humanitarian pause is being introduced from Feb. 27, that is tomorrow, from 09:00 until 14:00," Russia's RIA news agency quoted Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying yesterday.
"A humanitarian corridor will be created for the exit of civilians. The coordinates (of the corridor) have been prepared and will be announced in the near future," Shoigu added.
The announcement came after at least 29 people were killed in eastern Ghouta despite the UN security council resolution passed on Saturday that demanded an end to the fighting.
Local doctors and monitors said a suspected chlorine attack in the rebel-held area outside Damascus had left 18 people injured on Sunday evening, as residents condemned the international community's inability to put an end to the fighting.
Moscow yesterday said reports of an alleged chemical attack on Eastern Ghouta were planted "bogus stories" and insisted armed groups attacked by regime forces there were terrorist allies.
"There are already bogus stories in the media that yesterday chlorine was used in Eastern Ghouta, citing an anonymous individual living in the United States," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press-conference.
The world body's chief demanded the immediate implementation of a resolution calling for a 30-day truce, as another suspected chemical attack left a child dead in the enclave, reported AFP.
"Eastern Ghouta cannot wait. It is high time to stop this hell on earth," Antonio Guterres told the opening of the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The EU's diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini yesterday demanded that a UN-backed ceasefire in Syria be implemented "immediately", as fresh government strikes on the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta killed 10 civilians.
The fresh death toll in eastern Ghouta brought the weeklong carnage in the enclave to more than 500 killed in airstrikes and shelling by forces loyal to Assad.
PRESSURE ON PUTIN
France and Germany have been at the forefront of Western efforts to clinch a ceasefire but the resolution voted on Saturday has remained a dead letter.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron are now seeking to convince Russia to use its influence on Damascus to ensure the truce if enforced.
They stressed in a telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin "that it is crucial that the (UN) resolution be implemented quickly and comprehensively."
France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will also go to Moscow today.
The regime has reinforced its deployment around the enclave over the past month, raising fears of a ground offensive that aid groups warned could cause even worse suffering.
With the Islamic State group's once sprawling "caliphate" now wiped off the map, the regime looks bent on completing its re-conquest and Eastern Ghouta is a key target.
The jihadists only control an estimated three percent of Syria territory, small pockets which various anti-IS forces continue to flush out.
The Observatory reported that at least 25 civilians were killed in a wave of air strikes on one of the very last pockets of holdout IS fighters in eastern Syria on Sunday.
It said the strikes were carried out by the US-led coalition but a US military spokesman said "there were no reported coalition strikes conducted in Syria" that day.
Another flashpoint in Syria has been the northern region of Afrin, where Kurdish forces have come under attack from neighbouring Turkey since January 20.
Turkey has warned it did not consider that the UN ceasefire resolution, which is not limited to Eastern Ghouta but whose wording excludes operations against terror groups, should affect its offensive on Afrin.