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Assad Regime Agrees to Eastern Ghouta Ceasefire Proposed by Russia

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Assad regime agreed Tuesday to a ceasefire in opposition-held Eastern Ghouta, following days of heavy bombardment, the United Nations envoy to the war-ravaged country said.

"I was just informed by the Russians today at the P5 meeting that the Russians have proposed and the government has accepted a ceasefire on Eastern Ghouta because we were and are very concerned about it," Staffan de Mistura told reporters in Geneva, where an eighth round of peace talks aimed at ending the Syrian conflict was getting underway.

"Now we need to see whether this takes place but it's not coincidental that this has actually been proposed and agreed upon just at the beginning of this session (of peace talks in Geneva)."

De Mistura said he learned of the proposal from a Russian envoy during a meeting of ambassadors from Security Council permanent representatives -- Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States -- earlier Tuesday.

Eastern Ghouta, located to the east of Damascus, is one of the last remaining opposition strongholds in Syria, and is part of one of four so-called "de-escalation zones" in place across the country to reduce violence.

It has been under siege since 2013 but in recent weeks violence has increased considerably, with deadly regime air strikes and artillery fire across the region, and opposition fire from the area into the capital.

The town of Hammuriyeh in Eastern Ghouta was hit with air strikes Tuesday morning, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the war monitor, said there were three deaths and 15 injuries from Tuesday's shelling, but that it was less intense than in previous days. A witness in the area said that while the shelling was lighter earlier in the day, it had intensified later.

A Syrian official said the situation on Tuesday was calm.

The UN's humanitarian agency OCHA said in a Tweet that relief teams had entered Eastern Ghouta with food and health supplies for 7,200 people, entering through Nashabiyeh on the opposite side of the pocket from where the fighting was.

Over the weekend, regime air strikes and shelling on Ghouta intensified, killing at least 43 people on Sunday and Monday, the Observatory said. Syrian state media said 13 shells hit government-held areas of Damascus on Monday.

U.N.-backed peace talks in Geneva are set to begin on Tuesday. The government delegation will arrive on Wednesday to attend the talks, state news agency SANA reported.

The opposition delegation, the Syrian Negotiation Commission, called for direct negotiations with the government instead of the previous model of each side speaking only to U.N. mediators.

Médecins Sans Frontières, the international medical humanitarian organization, said on Monday hundreds of people had been wounded in intense bombing and shelling of the Eastern Ghouta in the last two weeks.

It said five MSF-supported field hospitals in East Ghouta had treated 576 wounded patients and recorded 69 deaths, with a quarter of the wounded women or children under the age of 15.

In a statement, MSF said its figures did not account for the total numbers killed in the area as there are other medical facilities it does not support regularly.

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