Syria is suffering one of its bloodiest weeks of the nearly seven-year war as government and Russian jets pound rebel-held areas, with the United Nations saying it will “no longer stay silent”.
Hundreds of air strikes have hit the besieged Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta and the northwestern province of Idlib in the last few days alone as Bashar al-Assad’s regime drastically escalates its campaign to reconquer opposition territory.
More than 110 civilians were killed in Eastern Ghouta on Monday and Tuesday, including 43 women and children, and a further 23 on Wednesday.
“This was the highest civilian toll in Syria in nearly nine months, and one of the bloodiest days for Eastern Ghouta in several years,” said Rami Abdulrahman, the head of the Britain-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Mosques blared announcements in the Douma neighbourhood of Eastern Ghouta on Wednesday, warning people not to gather in the street for fear of attracting the attention of jets overhead.
The White Helmets civil defence workers published videos showing the bodies of whole families being pulled from under the rubble of their levelled homes.
One picture showed a baby lying on a hospital bed with one of its legs blown off.
Death toll rises after Syria airstrikes, in pictures
The US said it had also recorded six chemical attacks in Syria in the last month, while the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the chemical watchdog. said it was investigating the use of chlorine.
One resident described the suburb – which is surrounded on all sides by regime troops – as a “kill box”.
“Where can we go? There is nowhere left to hide,” Ahmed said. “If we move out of our bombed house, we will be bombed in someone else’s.”
Some 400,000 residents of the enclave have been blockaded for more than three years by the Syrian government, which has denied access to the UN and aid agencies.
The punishing campaign by the Syrian government and its ally, Russia, has also battered Idlib, the largest area under opposition control.
The offensive hit nine medical facilities and residential buildings and has intensified after militants shot down a Russian Su-25 fighter jet near the town of Saraqeb over the weekend.
Idlib is home to some two million residents, many of whom have been displaced by bombing in other areas who now find themselves trapped between fighting to the south and the closed Turkish border to the north.
Idlib and Eastern Ghouta are two of four “de-escalation zones” which had been agreed upon by both sides of the conflict at peace talks in Kazakhstan last year.
The UN said the recent escalation “made a mockery” of the deal, which has failed to stem the fighting as the Syrian government continues its nationwide military conquest.
Russia, which acts as a sponsor for the Syrian government, has so far failed to rein in its client.
Turkey, the co-sponsor of the agreement, meanwhile, has been waging its own war against Kurdish militias along the Syrian border.
Fighting between Syrian rebels supporting Turkish troops and the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) militia has left dozens dead on both sides and sent thousands of civilians fleeing for safety.
The violence has prompted to the UN to make an unusual call for an immediate ceasefire for a month to allow in aid deliveries, which the global body said were at an “all-time low”.
“Over the last 48 hours, the scale and ferocity of attacks has increased dramatically,” the UN-mandated Independent International Commission of Inquiry said.
“There is a misperception that the de-escalation areas have resulted in peace and stability. If anything, these have been serious escalation areas,” said Panos Moumtzis, UN’s assistant secretary general and humanitarian coordinator for Syria.
He said the situation had grown more dire because of the multiple fronts raging at the same time.
“It’s the first time – between Eastern Ghouta, Idlib, Afrin – we have multiple fronts with people in extreme danger without a view to a solution,” Mr Moumtzis said.
“We feel really outraged. Dramatic developments have been building up and it has reached a point where we can no longer stay silent,” he added. “It’s our moral duty to speak up.”
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