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‘Nowhere is safe’ in East Ghouta as bombings kill more than 100 in 48 hours

AMMAN: Pro-government airstrikes and artillery fire killed more than 100 […]

7 February 2018

AMMAN: Pro-government airstrikes and artillery fire killed more than 100 people across the rebel-held eastern suburbs of Damascus in the past 48 hours alone, according to local Civil Defense personnel, one of whom described “catastrophic conditions” on Wednesday.

The latest East Ghouta bombings are reportedly the most severe since Syrian government forces intensified airstrikes and artillery fire on the besieged rebel enclave in late December.

“Nowhere is safe, and there is nowhere to run,” 35-year-old resident Mahr Abu Fadi, told Syria Direct on Wednesday, describing East Ghouta’s de facto capital of Douma.

The Outer Damascus branch of the Syrian Civil Defense reported more than 20 residents killed by air and artillery strikes on the besieged enclave on Wednesday via official social media pages. Bombings killed an additional 80 people on Tuesday, according to the latest Civil Defense statistics.

A Civil Defense member carries a child from site of an airstrike in Douma on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Syrian Civil Defense in Outer Damascus.

Among the scores of people killed on Tuesday was one of Mahr Abu Fadi’s relatives, who he says died in a government airstrike. On Wednesday, airstrikes reportedly killed 12 residents in Douma alone.

Local hospitals in the besieged enclave are struggling to treat hundreds of injured residents, some of them in critical condition, Civil Defense spokesman Siraj Mahmoud said in an online video statement on Tuesday night.

East Ghouta’s medical facilities are already facing severe shortages of supplies amidst an airtight government siege.

“Sadly, injured residents—among them women and children—are likely to join the numbers of the dead,” said Mahmoud.

Syria Direct contacted three volunteers for the Syrian Civil Defense in the East Ghouta suburbs on Wednesday. All three replied that they could not provide a detailed account as bombings and search-and-rescue operations were ongoing.

“We are under pressure…the conditions are catastrophic,” Firas al-Kahal, a Civil Defense member, told Syria Direct on Wednesday. “We can’t really say anything more right now.”

Civil Defense officials reported airstrikes in at least eight cities and towns in the East Ghouta suburbs over the past 48 hours.

The Douma Local Council declared a “state of emergency” on Tuesday in the northern and western neighborhoods of city, the two areas closest to frontlines with Syrian government soldiers and allied forces.

“For these past two days, you can smell death everywhere,” Hamed Hassan, a 28-year-old Douma resident, told Syria Direct on Wednesday.

Douma city on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Ghouta Media Center.

The East Ghouta suburbs, which the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and allied forces encircled in 2013, are home to an estimated 400,000 residents. The besieged enclave is one of four regions across the country included in a Russian- and Iran-brokered de-escalation deal, announced in May.

Despite the de-escalation deal, Syrian and Russian warplanes began an intensified air campaign on the besieged pocket on December 29 along with a near daily barrage of shelling. The bombings coincided with ground fighting between pro-government forces and rebel fighters on the ground at the northwest edge of the enclave.

Air and artillery strikes have killed more than 250 East Ghouta residents and injured more than one thousand others since December 29, according to statistics the Syrian Civil Defense sent to Syria Direct on Wednesday. Those numbers do not include people killed and injured since Tuesday morning.

Over the same period, at least three alleged chlorine gas attacks hit East Ghouta. The latest strike was on February 3 when three surface-to-surface missiles purportedly carrying chlorine gas hit Douma, injuring four residents, Syria Direct reported at the time.  

Abdulrahman Tafour, a resident and citizen journalist from Saqba, six kilometers south of Douma, said his town was “at a complete standstill” on Wednesday.  

Amid a flurry of air and artillery strikes in the area, Tafour and his neighbors are trying to protect themselves by waiting out the bombings in the basements of their homes. Residents without a basement to shelter themselves in, he says, “are at the mercy of God.”

Douma resident Hassan briefly ventured out of his home on Wednesday to purchase supplies from what stores were open in the nearby market, he told Syria Direct. He took Douma’s back-roads to avoid bombings of major thoroughfares, but even so says “an artillery shell landed just meters away” from his motorcycle.

Paulo Pinheiro, the chair of the United Nations’ Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria, called reports of deadly, pro-government bombings in East Ghouta and other opposition territories “extremely troubling” in a statement on Tuesday.

The attacks “make a mockery of the so-called ‘de-escalation zones’ intended to protect civilians from such bombardment,” added Pinheiro.

Douma resident Mahr Abu Fadi told Syria Direct on Wednesday that he finds it difficult to convey the conditions in his city. The mosque near his home is announcing the names of those killed by airstrikes and shelling, he says, over the loudspeaker typically used for the call to prayer.

“It’s impossible to really describe it,” he said.

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