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Hospitals overwhelmed in ‘hell on earth’ Ghouta

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an immediate suspension of “all war activities” in the rebel-held Damascus suburbs.

Doctors in Syria’s rebel-controlled suburbs of Damascus have said they cannot keep up with the number of casualties, amid shelling by government forces.

The bombing campaign has targeted hospitals, apartment blocks and other civilian sites, killing and wounding hundreds of people in recent days.

The bombardment has forced many among the nearly 400,000 residents to sleep in basements and makeshift shelters, and has overwhelmed rescue workers who have spent days digging out survivors from the wreckage of bombed buildings.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an immediate suspension of “all war activities” in the rebel-held Damascus suburbs known as eastern Ghouta where he said 400,000 people are living “in hell on earth”.

The UN chief said a suspension of fighting must allow for humanitarian aid to reach all in need and the evacuation of some 700 people needing urgent medical treatment.

Dr Waleed Awata described a desperate, chaotic scene at the small hospital where he works as an anesthesiologist in the town of Zamalka, one of a cluster of settlements that make up eastern Ghouta. The facility, with just 17 beds, received 82 patients on Tuesday night alone, he said.

“We had to give them IVs and treat them on the floor,” the 44-year-old physician told The Associated Press. He said the bodies of two women and two children killed in Wednesday’s shelling were also brought to the hospital.

The hospital was struck on Tuesday by barrel bombs — crude, explosives-filled oil drums dropped from helicopters at high altitudes — as well as sporadic artillery fire, Dr Awata said. Like many hospitals in the area, patients had been moved into the basement to shield them from air strikes. No one was hurt but the hospital’s generator, water tanks and several ambulances were damaged.

The international medical organisation Doctors Without Borders said 13 hospitals and clinics that it supports have been damaged or destroyed over the past three days. The International Committee of the Red Cross called for immediate access to tend to the wounded, saying medical personnel in the rebel-held areas were unable to cope amid shortages of medicines and supplies.

Syrian government forces supported by Russian aircraft have shown no signs of letting up their aerial and artillery assault on eastern Ghouta since they stepped up strikes late on Sunday as part of a new, determined push to recapture the territory that has been controlled by rebels since 2012.

The UN human rights office said in a statement on Wednesday that at least 346 people had been killed in eastern Ghouta since the Syrian government and its allies escalated their offensive on the region on February 4.

At least 92 of those deaths occurred in just one 13-hour period on Monday, it said, adding that the toll was far from comprehensive, documented in the midst of chaos and destruction. Another 878 people have been wounded, mostly in air strikes hitting residential areas.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which closely monitors the fighting through activists on the ground, said at least 300 people have been killed since Sunday night alone. The dead included 10 people killed in a new wave of strikes on Wednesday on the town of Kafr Batna.

The opposition’s Syrian Civil Defence search-and-rescue group, also known as the White Helmets, reported similar numbers, saying government forces targeted the town with air strikes, artillery fire and barrel bombs.

AP

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