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)

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