'Raining bombs': UN pleads for truce as warplanes pound Syrian district for 5th day

Warplanes pounded the last rebel enclave near Syria’s capital for a fifth day running on Thursday as the United Nations Security Council considered demanding a 30-day truce across the country to allow emergency aid deliveries and medical evacuations.

The UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, pleaded for a ceasefire to halt one of the fiercest air assaults of the 
seven-year civil war and prevent a “massacre” in the besieged eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of Damascus.

At least 403 people have been killed in eastern Ghouta district since Sunday night, according to the Syrian Observatory 
for Human Rights war monitor, with more than 2,116 wounded from the assault by Syria’s military and its allies.

Majid Santiha, a father of four, was one of them — killed in an airstrike Wednesday. His body was carried away on a stretcher to a medical centre with his children.

‘We will be judged by history’

One of his little boys was dug out from the rubble, blood trickling from cuts on his face. His sister, also alive, was slung over the shoulder of a rescue worker, her face and head scarf white from dust. Two other siblings also survived.

But with their father gone and their mother killed two years ago during a bombing in the Jobar district, their uncle will now raise the children.

GRAPHIC WARNING: Syrian forces continue to bombard rebel-held Ghouta province1:04

“There is a need for avoiding the massacre, because we will be judged by history,” UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said, urging the 15-member security council to act. The council was meeting on Thursday to 
discussion the situation at the request of Russia.

President Bashar al-Assad’s main ally Russia, which wields a veto on the Security Council, said it could support a 30-day truce, but not one that included the Islamist militants it says the onslaught on eastern Ghouta is meant to target.     

A resolution needs nine votes in favour and no vetoes by Russia, China, the United States, France or Britain to pass.

In the north, where Turkey launched an offensive in the past month against a Kurdish militia, the Kurds say pro-government fighters were now deploying to the front lines to help repel the Turkish advance.

Government forces have also entered a part of Aleppo controlled by the Kurdish YPG militia, a witness and a monitor group said, although the YPG denied this.

The Kurdish YPG — allies with the United States in other parts of Syria —  have sought assistance in recent days from the Russian-backed government to resist the Turkish offensive, an example of the unexpected alliances wrought during a multi-sided conflict that has drawn in neighbours and world powers.

Mass civilian casualties

International attention is now focused on the humanitarian plight in the eastern Ghouta, where 400,000 people have been under siege for years and where government bombardment escalated sharply on Sunday, causing mass civilian casualties. 

Residents of Douma, the biggest town in the district, described plumes of black smoke billowing from residential areas after planes dropped bombs from high altitude. Searches were underway for bodies amid the rubble in the town of Saqba and elsewhere, said rescuers.


Searches were underway for bodies amid the rubble in the town of Saqba and elsewhere, said rescuers. (Abdulmonam Eassa/AFP/Getty Images)

De Mistura said he hoped the security council would agree to a resolution calling for a ceasefire in eastern Ghouta, but acknowledged it would be difficult.

“I hope it will. But it’s uphill. But I hope it will. It is very urgent,” he said as he arrived at the UN in Geneva.

Aid workers and residents say Syrian army helicopters have been dropping “barrel bombs” — oil drums packed with explosives and shrapnel — on marketplaces and medical centres.

Residents and insurgents in eastern Ghouta say high-altitude jets of the kind involved in bombing on Thursday morning are Russian, as Moscow’s warplanes typically fly higher than those of the Syrian air force.

Damascus and Moscow deny targeting civilian areas and accuse rebels of holding civilians as human shields. Western powers have also accused Russia of aiding the bombardment.

“Those who support the terrorists are responsible” for the situation in eastern Ghouta, Kremlins pokesperson Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters.

“Neither Russia, nor Syria, nor Iran are in that category of states, as they are waging an absolute war against terrorists in Syria.”

Aid convoys await clearance

Sara Kayyali, Syria researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the situation in eastern Ghouta was deteriorating “at an exponential rate” with over 250 civilians dead in the last 48 hours. “Witnesses that we are speaking to on the ground are saying that it’s ‘raining bombs,'” she told Reuters in Geneva.

Robert Mardini, Middle East regional director for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the ICRC was poised to offer emergency medical care in the enclave and carry out evacuations of wounded as soon as conditions permitted.

“We need to get clearance and acceptance by all sides to carry out our work. We have a convoy ready to be sent to eastern Ghouta …as soon as there is reduction in the intensity of the fighting,” he told Reuters at a media briefing in Beirut.

A White House statement said Washington backed the UN call for a ceasefire to allow access for aid and medical evacuations. 

“The United States also calls upon Russia and its partners to live up to their obligations with respect to de-escalation zones, particularly those in eastern Ghouta and to end further attacks against civilians in Syria.”

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