Istanbul - UN Secretary General António Guterres urged Syria's warring parties Monday to heed a cease-fire call from world powers after days of bloodshed as Syrian forces pounded a rebel-held enclave outside Damascus.
Government airstrikes continued to blast the Eastern Ghouta district, where activists say more than 500 people have been killed over the past week in a sharp escalation of attacks against the largest rebel strongholds close to the capital.
"Eastern Ghouta cannot wait. It is high time to stop this hell on earth," Guterres told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The Security Council on Saturday voted unanimously for a resolution calling for a 30-day cease-fire to be implemented "without delay." Guterres said that U.N. agencies were ready to deliver aid and evacuate the wounded from the enclave, where 400,000 people have been living under government siege.
Nine members of the same family were reported killed in a single strike there early Monday, according to a Britain-based war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
"However, we have every reason to remain cautious," said U.N. human rights chief, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein. He then slammed the international community's failure to stop the "seven years of unremitting and frightful mass killing" in Syria, the Associated Press reported.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pushed back Monday against allegations that Syria's government was responsible for any cease-fire violations, saying the truce would only begin when "all sides have agreed how to implement," Reuters reported.
Lavrov, whose government backs Syrian President Bashar Assad, said that the cease-fire does not include a halt to operations against al-Qaida-linked groups either in Eastern Ghouta or in the northern Idlib province, where the Islamist militants are in control.
Rebels in Eastern Ghouta, one of the largest opposition-held areas, have responded to the heavy bombardment on the enclave by firing mortars in the capital, Damascus, which has remained relatively safe.
Elsewhere in Syria, in the northwestern region of Afrin, Turkish forces and their proxies continued a month-long offensive against Syrian Kurdish militants. Turkey's state news agency said Monday that Turkish special forces had crossed into Syria in preparation for a "new battle" against the militants, known as the YPG.
Turkey views the Syrian Kurdish forces as potential threats to security, claiming the militias have links to Kurdish separatists that have battled Turkey for decades. But the YPG is also backed by the United States - Turkey's NATO ally - as a proxy force against remnants of the Islamic State in Syria.
The office of French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that he had told his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that Afrin was included in the cease-fire.
Still, the presence of multiple regional and world powers and their proxies underscored the difficulties of enforcing a truce.
To secure the support of Russia for the cease-fire, the United States and its allies had diluted the language of the resolution to exclude unspecified "terrorists," a loophole that seems to be providing justification for continued fighting on many fronts.
The Syrian government routinely describes all of its opponents as terrorists, even though only a small number of the armed groups fighting in Syria are designated as terrorists by the international community. Apart from stating that the cease-fire should go into effect as soon as possible, the resolution provided no deadline, no mechanism for establishing one and no process for enforcing the truce should it take hold.
Syrian government forces almost immediately defied the resolution Sunday, launching a ground offensive, sustaining their airstrikes and allegedly dropping at least one bomb laden with chlorine against a rebel-held enclave outside Damascus.
The use of a chlorine bomb, which killed the child and hospitalized nine others with breathing difficulties, according to the Syrian American Medical Society, seemed only to underline the government's defiance. Halting the use of chlorine has been a focus of the United States' most recent efforts to influence the course of the war.
"Nothing has changed on the ground. This is only a truce in the Security Council," said Firas Abdullah, an activist with the Ghouta Media Center. "The warplanes are still hitting and people are still hiding. Nobody can go outside."
The Washington Post