Hun­dreds die in Syr­ian air raids

The Weekend Australian - - WORLD - AFP

ARBIN: Syr­ian regime jets have pounded East­ern Ghouta, send­ing the death toll from a four-day as­sault on the rebel en­clave on the out­skirts of Da­m­as­cus soar­ing past 220.

A clash on Thurs­day in east­ern Syria, where the US-led coali­tion killed at least 100 pro-regime fight­ers to fend off an at­tack on its Kur­dish al­lies, was slammed yes­ter­day by Moscow, with Rus­sia’s UN am­bas­sador Vass­ily Neben­zia say­ing he had lodged a protest about the as­sault dur­ing a closed­door Se­cu­rity Coun­cil meet­ing.

“To con­front those who re­ally fight in­ter­na­tional terrorism on the ground in Syria is crim­i­nal,” Mr Neben­zia said.

The clash marked a fresh es­ca­la­tion between Wash­ing­ton, which has threat­ened the regime over its use of chem­i­cal weapons, and Da­m­as­cus, which la­belled it a “war crime”.

The Se­cu­rity Coun­cil early yes­ter­day failed to back a UN ap­peal for a month-long hu­man­i­tar­ian cease­fire in Syria.

In East­ern Ghouta, which lies east of the cap­i­tal and has been be­sieged since 2013, res­i­dents had no time to mourn their dead or treat their wounded from the pre­vi­ous day’s bom­bard­ment.

“These are the worst four days that East­ern Ghouta has ever gone through,” said Hamza, a doc­tor at the Arbin clinic treat­ing the wounded. “From 2011 un­til now, there has never been the level of bom­bard­ment we’ve seen in the last 96 hours.”

The death toll mounted steadily, with the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights giv­ing 75 civil­ians dead by early yes­ter­day. Three died of wounds suf­fered on Wed­nes­day that brought to 228 the num­ber of civil­ians killed since the regime launched a cam­paign on Mon­day of heavy air raids on the area, which has an es­ti­mated 400,000 res­i­dents.

Among them were at least 58 chil­dren, the ob­ser­va­tory said.

“Chil­dren and teach­ers are ter­ri­fied that at any mo­ment they could be hit. The siege means there is nowhere for them to es­cape,” said So­nia Khush of Save the Chil­dren. “There must be an im­me­di­ate halt to the fight­ing and an end to the siege.”

Res­cue worker Moayad al-Hafi said his team was tar­geted as it re­trieved bod­ies near Arbin.

“As we were pulling out the chil­dren and the dead from un­der the rub­ble, they tar­geted us with five rock­ets — di­rectly tar­get­ing us,” said Hafi, 24. Agence FrancePresse cor­re­spon­dents said mor­tars were rain­ing down on Bab Touma on Thurs­day night.

East­ern Ghouta was one of sev­eral so-called de-es­ca­la­tion zones agreed last year by three of the main out­side play­ers in the con­flict — Turkey, Iran and Rus­sia.

Ankara said yes­ter­day it would host a new three-way sum­mit to re­vive ef­forts to end the war, which has killed at least 340,000 peo­ple and dis­placed mil­lions since 2011.

At­tempts to bring the con­flict’s pro­tag­o­nists and bro­kers to the ta­ble have floun­dered, but the UN made a fresh call this week for con­flict­ing sides to halt fight­ing. The US backed the plea but Rus­sia — a long­time ally of Syria’s gov­ern­ment — shrugged it off. “That is not re­al­is­tic,” Mr Neben­zia said.

A US mil­i­tary of­fi­cial said the US-led coali­tion that as­sists Kur­dish-led forces in the hunt for sur­viv­ing Is­lamic State mem­bers in east­ern Syria killed at least 100 pro-regime fight­ers on Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day.

US De­fence Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis said the coali­tion acted in self-de­fence af­ter pro-gov­ern­ment forces moved on an area un­der the con­trol of the Kur­dish-led Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces.

The pro-Da­m­as­cus forces “be­gan shelling it with ar­tillery,” he said. “They were mov­ing with tanks, ob­vi­ously in the same direc­tion as they were fir­ing. At the end of our ef­fort to de­fend our­selves, their ar­tillery was knocked out, two of their tanks were knocked out. They had ca­su­al­ties.”

Syr­ian me­dia con­firmed dozens were killed but ap­peared to deny the forces were army soldiers, de­scrib­ing them as “pop­u­lar forces”. The ob­ser­va­tory said the forces were lo­cal tribal fight­ers loyal to dic­ta­tor Bashar alAs­sad and Afghan Shia mili­tia fight­ing along­side the regime.

Wounded fight­ers were taken to the mil­i­tary hos­pi­tal in Syria’s east­ern Deir al-Zor city, which is con­trolled by the gov­ern­ment. An AFP re­porter saw at least six fight­ers there, ly­ing on hos­pi­tal beds in sparsely equipped rooms.

The ob­ser­va­tory said the regime forces may have been aim­ing to cap­ture an oil­field and a gas plant in a SDF-held area. The Omar oil­field, one of the big­gest in Syria, had a pre-war out­put of 30,000 bar­rels per day, while the Conoco gas field had a ca­pac­ity of 13 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres a day.

In a let­ter ad­dressed to the UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral, the Syr­ian For­eign Min­istry said the at­tack “rep­re­sents a war crime and a crime against hu­man­ity”.

Hu­man Rights Watch yes­ter­day ac­cused Iraqi Kur­dish se­cu­rity forces of car­ry­ing out mass ex­e­cu­tions of de­tainees al­leged to be mem­bers of the ISIS.

The watch­dog said the Kur­dish Pesh­merga fight­ers de­tained Iraqis and for­eign­ers at a school in Sa­hel al-Mal­iha, 70km north­west of Mo­sul, from which ISIS was ex­pelled in July.

HRW deputy Mid­dle East di­rec­tor Lama Fakih said the ev­i­dence sug­gested the Pesh­merga ex­e­cuted “per­haps scores, even hun­dreds” of ISIS sus­pects night af­ter night for a week.


Syr­ian civil de­fence White Hel­mets evac­u­ate the wounded from the regime bom­bard­ment of the East­ern Ghouta en­clave near Da­m­as­cus yes­ter­day

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