Dozens killed in East Ghouta after Security Council demands ceasefire: ‘Planes never left the skies’

AMMAN: Pro-government airstrikes and shelling killed at least 33 civilians in East Ghouta on Monday, the Civil Defense told Syria Direct, two days after the United Nations Security Council demanded a halt to hostilities in the besieged rebel enclave.

“We had hoped the bombing would stop for even a few hours—but the planes never left the skies,” East Ghouta Civil Defense spokesman Siraj Mahmoud told Syria Direct on Monday.

The United Nations (UN) Security Council voted unanimously on Saturday to call for an immediate, 30-day ceasefire across Syria to “enable weekly humanitarian aid deliveries and medical evacuations of the critically sick and wounded,” read a statement posted on the UN website.

The Security Council resolution also called upon all parties to “immediately lift the sieges of populated areas—including in East Ghouta,” the statement continued.

The day after the resolution passed, pro-government forces launched 21 airstrikes, 19 barrel bombs and as many as 900 Grad missiles on rebel-held East Ghouta, the Civil Defense reported on Sunday, leaving 19 civilians dead and dozens more wounded.

On Monday, a dawn airstrike killed 10 members of a single family in the East Ghouta city of Douma, the Civil Defense said. By time of publication, further airstrikes on Douma, the de facto capital of the rebel enclave, killed at least seven more civilians, Muhammad Adel, a citizen journalist in the city told Syria Direct.

Victims of an alleged chemical attack in a-Shafouniya on Sunday. Photo courtesy of the Syrian American Medical Society.

In addition to conventional weapons, the Civil Defense and local medical professionals accused pro-government forces of using chemical and incendiary weapons against civilian targets in recent days.

Doctors in the town of a-Shafouniya in East Ghouta treated at least 18 residents for symptoms “consistent with exposure to toxic chlorine gas” on Sunday evening, according to a statement released on WhatsApp by the Outer Damascus Ministry of Health.

Patients developed symptoms after “an enormous explosion” in a-Shafouniya, where first responders and residents reported a “clear and known smell of chlorine gas,” read the statement, which was released online on Monday.

“Russian” warplanes also launched several rockets and bombs containing white phosphorus munitions over the towns of a-Shafouniya and a-Nashbiya on Sunday, the Civil Defense alleged.

“The only thing we can do is try to put out the fires with dirt and blankets,” spokesman Mahmoud told Syria Direct on Monday.

Russia is a longtime backer of the Assad government, and opposition sources claim its planes are participating in the ongoing attacks in East Ghouta. Moscow is one of the UN Security Council’s 15 members and voted in favor of Saturday’s ceasefire resolution.

Russian state media reported on Monday afternoon that a "humanitarian ceasefire" would go into effect in East Ghouta on February 27. The ceasefire would pause fighting between 9am and 2pm each day and open a "humanitarian corridor" for civilians to exit the besieged enclave, Russian Defense minister General Sergei Shoigu told TASS on Monday.

‘Intense battles’

While bombings continued unabated over the weekend, pro-government ground forces launched a major ground assault on rebel frontlines in East Ghouta in the early morning hours of Sunday, two rebel military spokesman told Syria Direct.

“It was one of the largest attempts to storm East Ghouta” in recent memory, Wael Alwan, spokesman for the Failaq a-Rahman rebel faction told Syria Direct.

Smoke rises after an airstrike in Kafr Batna on February 22. Photo courtesy of Amer al-Mohibani/AFP.

Pro-government forces, including the elite Tiger Forces, attempted to advance on five separate fronts in East Ghouta, Alwan said. Frontline cities such as a-Nashbiya and Harasta were bombed ahead of ground assaults, he added.

After “intense battles,” rebel forces repelled each pro-government assault, said Alwan.

At least five artillery shells landed in residential neighborhoods in government-held Damascus city on Monday, Syrian state news outlet SANA reported, injuring a man and damaging property. Another 16 shells landed in the capital a day earlier, the report read.

Jaish al-Islam—East Ghouta’s largest and most influential rebel faction—published photos of a destroyed T-72 government tank and the bodies of several pro-Assad fighters via the encrypted messaging app Telegram on Sunday.

Pro-government forces made no attempt to advance on Monday, Jaish al-Islam spokesman Hamza Beriqdar told Syria Direct.

In Harasta, a town in northwestern East Ghouta near the frontlines, the Civil Defense recorded more than 17 airstrikes and 100 artillery shells on Monday.

“What truce are you talking about?" Abu Muatez, a 40-year-old father of four and Harasta resident, told Syria Direct on Monday. "We’ve only heard about it in the news.”

With additional reporting by Alaa Safwan

Alaa Nassar

Alaa was forced to flee Damascus with her family because of the pressure from the Syrian regime in 2013. She was a student of Arabic Language & Literature at the University of Damascus. She came to Syria Direct because she hopes to find a new direction in her life and to show the world what is happening in her country.

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.