Syrian death toll rises as bombing of rebel enclave continues

More killed and wounded as pro-regime rockets and barrel bombs fall on eastern Ghouta.

Pro-regime rockets and barrel bombs are continuing to fall on the Syrian rebel enclave of eastern Ghouta, which has been hammered since Sunday by one of the heaviest bombardments in seven years of war.

Five people died and more than 200 were injured in the area outside Damascus early on Wednesday, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The pace of the bombardment appeared to slacken overnight, but its intensity resumed on Wednesday morning, said the monitoring group, which puts the death toll in the past 48 hours at about 250 people.

The surge in the killing came amid reports of an impending regime incursion into the area, which is home to 400,000 civilians. More than 700 people have been killed in three months, according to local counts, not including the deaths in the last week.

Amnesty International said war crimes were being committed on an “epic scale” in eastern Ghouta.

Diana Semaan, the charity’s Syria researcher, said: “People have not only been suffering a cruel siege for the past six years, they are now trapped in a daily barrage of attacks that are deliberately killing and maiming them, and that constitute flagrant war crimes.”

Seven hospitals have been bombed since Monday morning in eastern Ghouta, which was once the breadbasket of Damascus but has been under siege for years by the Assad government and subjected to devastating chemical attacks. Two hospitals suspended operations and one was put out of service.

“We are standing before the massacre of the 21st century,” said a doctor in eastern Ghouta. “If the massacre of the 1990s was Srebrenica, and the massacres of the 1980s were Halabja and Sabra and Shatila, then eastern Ghouta is the massacre of this century right now.”

After seven years and interventions by regional and global powers, Syria’s humanitarian crisis has intensified as forces loyal to Assad’s regime and his Russian and Iranian backers seek an outright military victory instead of a negotiated political settlement.

Exact death tolls are difficult to obtain as rescue operations continue and because some families bury their dead without taking them to hospital.

State media reported that two people were wounded on Wednesday as rebels fired mortars on the districts of Damascus near eastern Ghouta. Rebel mortars killed at least six on Tuesday.

Eastern Ghouta is one of the “de-escalation zones” agreed by Russia, Iran and Turkey as part of their diplomatic efforts. But a former al-Qaida affiliate which was not included in the truces has a small presence there.

Turkey shelled Afrin province in northern Syria overnight on Tuesday, showing no sign of reducing its assault on the Kurdish-held region despite the arrival of pro-Syrian government militia.

It raises the chances of a further escalation of fighting on Syria’s messy northern battlefront where Turkey, Syrian rebels, the army, Iran-linked militias backing the Damascus government, Kurdish fighters, Russia and the US are all present.