Friday 20 April 2018

Regime air raids kill at least 96 outside Syrian capital

Men transport a casualty after what activists said were air strikes by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad on a market place in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus.
Men transport a casualty after what activists said were air strikes by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad on a market place in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus.

Paula Kraimer in Beirut

At least 96 people were killed in Syrian regime air raids outside Damascus as the United Nations' top humanitarian chief held talks with government officials.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 200 people were also injured in a string of 10 airstrikes on the rebel-held town of Douma.

Civilians accounted for most of those killed, it said, and the death toll was expected to rise sharply because many of the wounded were in serious condition.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said in a statement that locals had gathered after a first strike targeted a market in the town to help evacuate the wounded when the additional raids came.

At least six raids hit the market, with the others striking nearby in the centre of town, Mr Rahman said.

UN humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien said he was "horrified" by the attacks on civilians taking place in Syria.

The protracted conflict not only "severely affects" the lives of millions of people in Syria, it also threatens the stability of the entire region, Mr O'Brien said at a press conference in Damascus.

The stark warning comes amid a surge in violence as Syrian government troops, Islamic militants and rebels carried out attacks that killed and wounded dozens yesterday, including in President Bashar Assad's coastal stronghold of Latakia.

"Attacks on civilians are unlawful, unacceptable and must stop," said Mr O'Brien, speaking at the end of a three-day visit to Syria, during which he met senior officials and visited the central province of Homs.

Government air raids on Sunday killed at least 96 people in the eastern Damascus suburb of Douma, making it one of the deadliest single incidents since the crisis began in March 2011. The airstrikes hit a vegetable market in the suburb, which is a stronghold of the Islam Army rebel group.

A video posted online by activists of the aftermath of the attacks showed an intersection strewn with rubble and twisted metal.

The fronts of several buildings nearby appeared to have been shorn off by the force of the blasts, and many cars lay overturned and crumpled.

Douma lies in the rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta, a region outside the capital that is the regular target of government air strikes.

Eastern Ghouta has been under government siege for nearly two years, with regime forces tightening the blockade since the start of this year.

Amnesty International last week accused the government of committing war crimes in Eastern Ghouta, saying its heavy aerial bombardment of the area was compounding the misery created by the blockade.

The group also accused rebels in the area of war crimes for firing rockets indiscriminately at the capital.

The strikes on Douma came as Mr O'Brien held talks with government officials on his first trip to Syria since being appointed.

Mr O'Brien, who succeeded Valerie Amos in May, met Walid Muallem, the foreign minister, state media reported.

Official news agency Sana said Mr O'Brien had expressed willingness to work with the government to alleviate humanitarian suffering in the country.

Close to 12 million people have been uprooted by Syria's conflict, with more than four million becoming refugees and 7.6 million being internally displaced.

Mr O'Brien met Syria's deputy foreign minister and visited Homs, which is now mostly under government control.

Government forces have been trying for weeks to capture Zabadani, the last rebel bastion in the area along the Lebanese border.

In response, rebels have fired hundreds of missiles at Fuaa and Kafraya, two Shia-majority villages that are the last regime-held civilian areas in Idlib province.

Meanwhile, a US-trained rebel group said in a statement that al Qaida affiliate Al-Nusra Front had freed seven of its members kidnapped two weeks earlier.

Irish Independent

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