Violence mars first day of eastern Ghouta 'truce' in Syria

The US is urging Russia to use its "influence" to secure a fully-fledged ceasefire in Syria

Violence mars first day of eastern Ghouta 'truce' in Syria

Smoke rises over rebel-held areas in the Eastern Ghouta of Damascus, 26-02-2018. Image: Ammar Safarjalani/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Updated: 21.40

A 'humanitarian pause' in Russian airstrikes in the Syrian rebel-held enclave of eastern Ghouta failed to result in aid deliveries or medical evacuations as fresh violence erupted.

The five-hour daily stoppage this week from 9.00am to 2.00pm, which began on Tuesday, was meant to allow residents to leave the besieged suburb on the edge of the capital Damascus and allow aid in.

But there was no sign of either happening, with some locals appearing distrustful of the truce by Russia - President Bashar al Assad's main ally - calling it a "farce".

The International Committee of the Red Cross has said it was ready to enter the enclave to deliver life-saving aid, but the five-hour period was too short.

Moscow's truce, ordered by President Vladimir Putin, comes after the United Nations backed a broader 30-day ceasefire at the weekend but which has yet to take effect.

The Syrian regime sent buses to the al Wafideen checkpoint so residents wanting to use a humanitarian corridor could flee what the UN describes as "hell on earth" in the seven-year war.

But no civilians were seen heading towards the checkpoint, where large portraits of Mr Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin stood side-by-side.

A 15-truck convoy seen entering the area of Kfar Batna, in the eastern Ghouta area, near the Syrian capital Damascus on February 23rd 2016 | Image: Balkis Press/ABACA/PA Images

Many said they feared harassment or arrest if they go into government areas after years of living in the rebel-controlled area.

"Anyone would face a number of dangers at any moment if they step into Damascus, either by arrest or by questioning family members. We in Ghouta we have no way out," said Nemaat Mohsen, who lives in the town of Saqba.

More than 550 civilians have been killed since February 18th in bombardments by the Syrian government and Russian forces in eastern Ghouta, a suburb of 400,000 people.

The level of violence was significantly lower on Tuesday as the 'pause' began, but six civilians were killed in bombardments by the regime, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

Two people were killed before the declared five-hour window, two during and two after, the organisation said, adding the bombings intensified again later.

Russia accused rebels of attacking government forces with artillery and small arms fire in the Hazrama and Nashabia settlements during the 'pause'.

Moscow also accused militants of firing mortar shells at a humanitarian corridor between Harasta and Douma.

Meanwhile, the United States said Russia is playing a destablising role in Syria and is acting as "both arsonist and firefighter".

US Army General Joseph Votel said Russia was "fuelling tensions among all parties in Syria... then serving as an arbitrator, to resolve disputes, attempting to undermine and weaken each party's bargaining positions".