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'Stop This Hell On Earth' In Syria's Ghouta, UN Chief Says

Syrian children receive treatment for a suspected chemical attack at a makeshift clinic in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of Damascus on February 25.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on the warring sides in Syria’s civil war to “immediately” implement a 30-day cease-fire across the country.

Speaking at the opening of the UN Human Rights Council’s annual session, Guterres said aid agencies were ready to deliver life-saving aid and evacuate critically wounded from the rebel-held enclave of eastern Ghouta, near Damascus.

He made the comments after the Security Council on February 24 passed a resolution demanding a monthlong truce "without delay" to allow aid deliveries and medical evacuations in Syria’s conflict areas.

The move followed a week of intense bombardment in Ghouta that killed more than 500 people, according to activists.

"Eastern Ghouta cannot wait. It is high time to stop this hell on Earth," Guterres told the UN gathering in Geneva.

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said that air strikes on Ghouta were continuing on the morning of February 26.

On February 25, Iran said attacks on "terrorists" outside the Syrian capital would continue but that Tehran and Damascus would respect the cease-fire elsewhere in the country.

And Turkey said the truce would not affect its military offensive in the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin in northern Syria.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke by telephone with Russian leader Vladimir Putin about the implementation of the cease-fire, the Kremlin said.

A German government spokesman said Macron and Merkel urged Putin to put "maximum" pressure on the Syrian government to halt the fighting in eastern Ghouta, where the UN says nearly 400,000 people live.

U.S. President Donald Trump on February 23 accused Russia, Iran, and the Syrian government of being responsible for a "humanitarian disgrace" in Syria.

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 launching a campaign of air strikes in 2015 and stepping up its military presence on the ground.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP