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87 dead in Syria as regime pounds besieged Ghouta

Syrians inspect the scene after the Assad regime hit a de-conflict zone in Ghouta, Damascus, Syria on 2 November 2017 [Yusuf El Bustani/Anadolu Agency]

Some 87 people have been killed and 352 injured in Syria’s East Ghouta after a week of intense bombing by President Bashar Al-Assad’s forces, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

At least 120 airstrikes and more than 1,000 artillery shells have struck opposition-held East Ghouta since last Tuesday, Abu Ahmad, a Civil Defence spokesman in Douma city told news agency Syria Direct on Monday, with reports that some 18 people were killed and more than 100 injured on Sunday alone.

“We’re still trying to rescue people trapped underneath the rubble. It’s extremely difficult with the ongoing bombings,” said Siraj Mahmoud, a spokesman for the Civil Defence in East Ghouta.

“Trapped people are shouting in pain, the sound is mixing with the noise of the bombs.”

A chemical weapons attack is also alleged to have taken place over the weekend, with the Syrian American Medical Society, which has doctors working in the area, reporting that it received patients “suffering from constricted pupils, coughing, vomiting, and bradypnea [abnormally slow breathing]”, possibly as a result of exposure to phosphorous.

Read: 7 children dead after Syrian regime bombs school

According to medics, the latest burst of regime aggression has included the use of cluster bombs – high explosive, anti-personnel munitions – that are prohibited by an international charter that Syria has refused to sign.

Bayan Rehan, a Douma resident and member of the opposition-run Women’s Council, said she lost a relative when a regime airstrike landed near her home last week. She told reporters that the town’s streets were empty as people retreated in fear or attacks.

We haven’t slept or eaten in days. We’re overcome by fear of the bombings. We don’t know what the coming days hold for us.

Emergency services on the ground are struggling to deal with the influx of casualties; much of Ghouta’s medical infrastructure has been damaged in successive strikes and their resources are already severely depleted due to the ongoing siege.

Read: Hunger-stricken children’s lives at risk in East Ghouta

Eastern Ghouta is one of four de-escalation zones established in May by Russia, Iran and Turkey in order to stem the bloodshed of Syria’s six-year civil war. However, the region has been subjected to intensified airstrikes from the Syrian regime in recent months, despite such attacks being expressly forbidden by the terms of the agreement.

The province is also suffering from a tightening of the blockade imposed since 2013, after an offensive by the Syrian regime earlier this year cut underground smuggling routes that formerly allowed civilians access to food, fuel and medicine.

Last month, an aid convoy from the UN and Syrian Arab Red Crescent arrived in Eastern Ghouta, bringing aid to 40,000 people for the first time since June 2016. The 49 trucks were allowed to enter after the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein warned of the deteriorating situation, calling for the parties in the conflict to allow food and medicines into the relevant areas.

Last week, Amnesty International released a new report on the Syrian government’s strategy of “surrender or starve” towards civilian populations in opposition controlled areas, concluding that the siege amounts to a crime against humanity.

Read: UN: Syria conflict has lasted longer than World War II

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