Assad forces press Ghouta advance despite calls to end ‘bloodbath’
Observatory: More than half a million killed during Syria war
DOUMA: Syria’s regime pressed its relentless offensive on Eastern Ghouta Monday as diplomats at the UN pushed for new efforts to end the “bloodbath” in the opposition enclave.
Pounding two towns with new bombardment, regime troops advanced in several areas of the besieged enclave, as a monitor reported about 511,000 people had been killed in the Syrian war since it began seven years ago.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, said on Monday it had identified more than 350,000 of those killed, and the remainder were cases where it knew deaths had occurred but did not know the victims’ names.
More than 19,800 children are among the dead, it said.
In the Ghouta offensive alone, at least 1,162 civilians have been killed, including 241 children, said the Observatory. It tracks death tolls using a network of contacts inside Syria.
The conflict began after mass protests on March 15 2011, dragging in regional and global powers and forcing millions of people — more than half the pre-war population — to flee their homes.
At least 353,935 people have died since, including more than 106,000 civilians, the Observatory said.
About 85 percent of the dead were civilians killed by the forces of the Syrian regime and its allies, the Observatory said.
On another front in the conflict, hundreds were seen fleeing a Turkish-led advance in the northern area of Afrin, where a Kurdish-majority city is also under threat of being besieged.
Syria’s civil conflict enters its eighth year this week with fighting in several areas, but the assault on Eastern Ghouta has been one of the most ferocious of the war.
Since Feb. 18, forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have retaken nearly 60 percent of the enclave, whittling down rebel territory to three isolated pockets.
Backed by Russia, the advance has battered Eastern Ghouta with airstrikes, artillery and rocket fire, raising widespread international concern and prompting urgent calls for a cease-fire.
France’s envoy to the UN, Francois Delattre, on Monday urged Moscow to put pressure on its ally to halt the offensive, saying: “Russia can stop the bloodbath.”
The US also presented a new draft resolution to the UN Security Council demanding a 30-day cease-fire in Eastern Ghouta.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council that a ceasee-fire resolution it adopted two weeks ago had failed and that the new resolution “provides no room for evasion.”
Pro-regime forces advanced again in Ghouta on Monday, heavily bombing two opposition-controlled towns closest to the capital, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Airstrikes and rocket fire slammed into the towns of Harasta and Arbin, the Britain-based monitor said, as the regime used the recently recaptured town of Medeira nearby as a launching pad for a ground assault.
Syrian state media also reported a government advance in Ghouta, saying the town of Efteris to the south had been seized.
The other two areas still in rebel hands are Douma, the region’s biggest town in the north of the enclave, and the zone around Hammuriyeh and other towns to the south.
An AFP correspondent in Douma said the morning was relatively quiet, allowing civilians to venture out of bomb shelters to check on the destruction in their homes or gather food.
Residents were seen queueing at a butcher shop, whose owner had slaughtered a calf that he could fatten up no further because there was nothing left to feed it.
Several children were among civilians evacuated by the Syrian regime forces from areas in the Eastern Ghouta region recently recaptured from the opposition forces. (AFP)