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UN: Syrian government agrees to Eastern Ghouta truce

UN envoy says Syria has agreed to Russian proposal for ceasefire in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta after days of bombardment.

Staffan de Mistura, UN envoy to Syria

Shelling killed at least three people in Eastern Ghouta, a monitoring group said on Tuesday, hours before the United Nations announced that Syria's government had agreed to a ceasefire in the rebel-held area after days of intense bombardment.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported the death toll a day after air raids in the besieged district on the outskirts of Syria's capital, Damascus, killed at least 19 people.

The report came as opposition delegates gathered in Geneva for a new round of UN-sponsored talks.

Government representatives are expected to arrive in the Swiss city on Wednesday. However, there is little optimism for progress towards ending the Syria's conflict, now in its seventh year.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Staffan de Mistura, the UN's envoy to Syria, said the government of Bashar al-Assad had agreed to a Russian plan for a truce in the rebel-controlled enclave.

"Russia has proposed and the government has accepted a ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta," he said, noting that he learned of the proposal from a Russian ambassador during an earlier meeting of envoys from the five Security Council permanent representatives: Britain, United States, France, China and Russia.

"Now we need to see whether this [ceasefire] takes place but it is not coincidental that this was actually proposed and agreed upon just the day of the beginning of this session [in Geneva]," added de Mistura.

Food and medicine shortages

Attacks on Eastern Ghouta over the past two weeks have killed more than 100 people, according to SOHR, which monitors developments in Syria's conflict via a network of sources on the ground.

Eastern Ghouta was hit even though it was listed as a "de-escalation zone", where military activity is prohibited under an agreement endorsed by Turkey, Russia, and Iran in separate talks with Syrian government and opposition delegates in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana.

Rebels in Eastern Ghouta have managed to keep Syrian military forces at bay during years of war, however, a government siege of the district has led to a humanitarian crisis with severe shortages of food and medicine.

After months of stalemate, the eighth round of the Geneva talks is expected to focus primarily on a new constitution and elections, two of the four so-called "baskets" of reforms laid out by the UN for a political settlement to the Syria crisis.

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