Syrian pro-regime troops have launched a large-scale attack on the rebel-held eastern Ghouta near Damascus. After years under siege, some 400,000 civilians are trapped between between starvation and bombings.
More than 100 people were killed on Tuesday as Syrian and Russian forces pounded a rebel-held Damascus suburb for the second day, bringing the death toll in the past 48 hours to at least 250 civilians.
Another 1,200 people people were injured in a combination of air strikes, rocket fire, and shelling on eastern Ghouta in the past two days, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
Rebels and analysts say the regime is preparing a major ground offensive to retake the rebel-held enclave of some 400,000 people, which is surrounded and has been under siege since 2013.
‘Spiraling out of control’
Concern is mounting that the seige of eastern Ghouta could turn into a repeat of the battle for Aleppo, which was restored to government control in December 2016 after a brutal pro-regime onslaught.
Tens of thousands of people trapped in eastern Ghouta have gone months without basic food, medicine or supplies.
The latest escalation in fighting has left civilians trapped between starvation and bombings. At least seven hospitals have also been hit by Syrian or Russian airstrikes.
“The humanitarian situation of civilians in East Ghouta is spiraling out of control,” said United Nations regional coordinator for the Syria crisis Panos Moumtzis. “Many residents have little choice but to take shelter in basements and underground bunkers with their children.”
“It’s imperative to end this senseless human suffering,” he added.
In Geneva, UNICEF issued a blank statement on the suffering of children in Ghouta, saying it had run out of words.
“Do those inflicting the suffering still have words to justify their barbaric acts?” they asked.
No end in sight
Eastern Ghouta is one of four “de-escalation zones” drawn up by Russia, Iran and Turkey to lower violence in the country.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appears bent on retaking the pocket of rebel territory so close to the capital.
For most of the civil war, the regime has prefered to siege and starve eastern Ghouta, rather than engage in a frontal assault.
The Syrian opposition said they were seeking to talk to Russian officials, who may be able to pressure Damascus into halting the attack. Two rebel factions signed onto the truce deal last year, which doesn’t include al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate.
Russia and Damascus are using a jihadist presence in eastern Ghouta as a pretext to launch an offensive, rebels there said.
“We are trying to do whatever we can do by negotiations with the Russians themselves … to interfere to stop these massacres,” Syrian opposition representative Nasr al-Hariri told the DPA news agency.
“Now the situation in Ghouta is getting more complicated and more catastrophic without any response until this moment from the international community,” said the official, whose Army of Islam rebel faction controls parts of the enclave.
Syrian state media said that rebels in eastern Ghouta had fired mortars at districts of Damascus, killing a child and wounding eight others.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that Moscow and its allies could “deploy our experience of freeing Aleppo … in the eastern Ghouta situation.”
Lavrov blamed “armed provocations” by Nusra militants, formerly linked to al Qaeda, for current conditions in eastern Ghouta.