98 dead after assault on rebel-held Damascus suburbs, activists say
The targeted suburbs have been subjected to weeks-long bombardment that has killed and wounded hundreds of people.
Intense Syrian government shelling and air strikes of rebel-held Damascus suburbs killed at least 98 people on what was the deadliest day in the area in three years, a monitoring group and paramedics said.
A day after Monday’s government barrage, retaliatory shells rained down on the Syrian capital, killing at least one person on Tuesday.
The targeted suburbs – scattered across an area known as eastern Ghouta – have been subjected to weeks-long bombardment that has killed and wounded hundreds of people.
Opposition activists say government forces have brought in more reinforcements in recent days, suggesting a major assault is imminent to recapture the area that is the last main rebel stronghold near Damascus.
Monday’s bombardment that killed nearly 100 people saw the use of war planes, helicopter gunships, missiles as well as artillery, in a major escalation of violence near President Bashar Assad’s seat of power.
Feeling alarmed by the extreme escalation in hostilities in #EastGhouta of today which has resulted in the deaths of over 40 civilians and more than 150 injuries in the besieged enclave. Civilians must be protected. #Syria https://t.co/AoXNO8J7l6 via @reliefweb— Panos Moumtzis (@PanosMoumtzis) February 19, 2018
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was the deadliest days in eastern Ghouta since 2015, adding that 20 children and 15 women were among those killed.
The opposition-affiliated Syrian Civil Defence, also known as White Helmets, said the shelling and air strikes killed 98 and that some people are still under the rubble.
It said the dead included one of the rescue group’s members, Firas Jomaa.
Both the Observatory and the White Helmets reported more air strikes and shelling on Tuesday in eastern Ghouta as rebels pounded Damascus with mortar shells.
Rebels retaliated by hitting some Damascus neighbourhoods with mortar shells, killing one person and wounding six people, according to the state news agency SANA.
On Tuesday morning, Damascus residents reported shelling on areas in central Damascus.
“Shells are falling like rain. We are hiding in the corridor,” a Damascus resident told The Associated Press, asking that her name not be mentioned for her own safety.
She spoke while hiding in the corridor of an office building.
Videos have surfaced from the eastern suburbs showing paramedics pulling out the injured from under the rubble while others are seen digging through the debris in the dark, in search for survivors.
“The humanitarian situation of civilians in East Ghouta is spiralling out of control,” said Panos Moumtzis, the UN regional humanitarian co-ordinator for the Syria crisis, in a statement late on Monday.
“It’s imperative to end this senseless human suffering now. Such targeting of innocent civilians and infrastructure must stop now,” he said.