Airstrikes and shelling kill dozens in besieged east Damascus suburbs

AMMAN: Nearly two dozen airstrikes killed a child and wounded several residents of a besieged rebel enclave east of Damascus on Sunday amid a nine-day uptick in reported Russian and Syrian government bombings that has killed nearly 100 people, local sources told Syria Direct.

At least 19 airstrikes and 62 artillery shells struck the town of Harasta in the northwestern edge of the East Ghouta suburbs on Sunday, the local Civil Defense reported on social media. Unidentified warplanes and artillery targeted the adjacent towns of Zamalka and Arbin the same day, according to the Civil Defense.

Government shelling and airstrikes have killed 94 people in East Ghouta since December 30, when Syrian government forces stepped up their attacks on the rebel-controlled suburbs, Siraj Mahmoud, a Civil Defense spokesman in East Ghouta told Syria Direct on Sunday afternoon.

At least 460 East Ghouta residents were injured over the past nine days of “continuous bombardment,” added Mahmoud.

A member of the Civil Defense in East Ghouta on Saturday. Photo Courtesy of Ghouta Media Center.

East Ghouta, a collection of rebel-held suburbs immediately northeast of government-controlled Damascus, is part of a de-escalation deal brokered by Iran and Russia in May that established four ceasefire zones across the country.

Syrian government forces have encircled East Ghouta since 2013. The siege tightened in recent months after government forces closed a key trade crossing into the enclave and shut down a network of smuggling tunnels that once brought food and other supplies to an estimated 400,000 residents.

Under the siege, food and medical supplies are scarce in East Ghouta. At the same time, Syrian government airstrikes have repeatedly defied the de-escalation agreement and targeted the rebel-held enclave in recent months, Syria Direct reported last November.

On Saturday, six surface-to-surface missiles targeted a residential neighborhood in Hamouria, killing 12 civilians leaving another 40 injured, said Civil Defense spokesman Mahmoud.

Civilians wounded in the Hamouria attack were evacuated to medical facilities elsewhere in East Ghouta for treatment due to a shortage of doctors and the limited capacity of local medical facilities, hospital administrator and Hamouria resident Adam Aslan told Syria Direct on Sunday.

Multiple medical facilities and hospitals have been hit in East Ghouta during the latest round of heaving bombings. On New Year’s Eve, an airstrike hit a primary health care center in Harasta in northwestern East Ghouta, damaging the facility without causing any casualties, the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations reported earlier this month.

In Hamouria, “we live in horror, and in fear of what’s next,” said hospital administrator Aslan.

Some of the recent airstrikes are “believed” to have been carried out by Russian warplanes, including a bombing on the town of Misraba that killed 18 civilians earlier this month, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on January 3.

Russian state media agency TASS has not reported any involvement in recent military operations east of the Syrian capital city. In December, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the “partial withdrawal” of Moscow’s forces from Syria.

Rebel fighters in East Ghouta shelled eastern neighborhoods of government-held Damascus last week, killing four civilians and injuring dozens of others, Syrian state news outlet SANA reported at the time.

The past week and a half of bombardment comes amid intense fighting between the Syrian Arab Army and pro-government militias against opposition forces on the ground in the northwestern reaches of East Ghouta. There, rebel fighters encircled a government-controlled armored vehicles base near Harasta in late December.

Between 200–300 government soldiers are trapped inside the armored vehicles base said Wael Alwan, a spokesman for opposition faction Failaq a-Rahman in East Ghouta. The battle for the base is “ongoing,” Alwan told Syria Direct, with rebel fighters assaulting regime fortifications south of the base and “inflicting heavy losses.”

Russian state-funded news agency Russia Today reported on Saturday that the Syrian Arab Army had captured several positions near the base, and would be breaking the siege in the coming days.

Ammar Hamou

Ammar Hammou is from Douma city in outer Damascus. He studied journalism at Damascus University and left Syria in 2011.

Justin Clark

Justin studied Arabic at Western Michigan University. He continued his studies at Bethlehem University in the West Bank and the Qasid Institute in Jordan. Justin's work and studies have taken him to Jordan, the West Bank, Egypt and Greece.