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Amid Outcry Over Ghouta, Russia Vows To Back Assad Against 'Terror Threat'

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov delivers a speech to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on February 28.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that Moscow will continue to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government to defeat what he called the "terrorist threat."

Lavrov's remarks, in an address to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on February 28, came amid a global outcry over a Syrian government offensive that has killed hundreds of people near Damascus in the past 10 days or so.

The bombardment of eastern Ghouta, an area of towns and farms on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, has been one of the deadliest air campaigns of a seven-year war in which Assad has had crucial Russian military and diplomatic support.

Lavrov criticized unnamed countries he said had failed to "clearly condemn any forms and manifestations of international terrorism."

"We believe it is inadmissible to divide terrorists into 'good' and 'bad,'" he said, echoing a frequent Russian claim that Western countries including the United States have applied double standards.

"Russia will carry on the fight against the vicious practice of double standards by helping the Syrian Army to wipe out the terrorist threat," Lavrov added.

Lavrov's comments came as Western countries urged Russia to use its influence with Assad to secure a 30-day cease-fire across the country, as demanded in a Russia-backed UN Security Council resolution on February 24.

They also came as violence continued in eastern Ghouta despite Russia's announcement of a daily "humanitarian pause."

The Syrian and Russian governments frequently refer to opponents of Assad as terrorists, and Lavrov blamed the situation in eastern Ghouta on the rebels.

Lavrov told the Geneva forum that "militants entrenched" in the besieged area were blocking aid and the evacuation of people who want to leave, despite Moscow's announcement of a "humanitarian corridor."

Activists said the government carried out air and artillery strikes in Ghouta during the first five-hour "pause" on February 27, while Damascus and Moscow accused rebels of shelling the evacuation route.

On February 28, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces and allied militias, backed by intense shelling and rocket bombardment, advanced on the enclave overnight.

The United Nations says the continued fighting makes relief operations impossible.

Russia has given Assad's government crucial support throughout the war in Syria, which began with a government crackdown on peaceful 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, AFP, and Interfax