Hundreds die in Syrian air raids
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