Death toll 'tops 600' after 10 days of bombardment in Syria's Eastern Ghouta

Death toll 'tops 600' after 10 days of bombardment in Syria's Eastern Ghouta
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 147 of the 601 civilians killed were children.
4 min read
28 February, 2018
Civil defence volunteers pray over the body of a victim killed after regime bombardment [Getty]
The civilian death toll in Eastern Ghouta since Syria and its ally Russia intensified their bombardment of the rebel enclave on February 18 topped 600 on Wednesday, a monitor said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 147 of the 601 civilians killed, mostly in airstrikes, were children.

The rise in casualties came in part from the discovery of bodies that had remained trapped in the rubble of destroyed buildings by rescuers who took advantage of a Russian-brokered "humanitarian pause" to search for survivors.

"The five-hour daily truce and the imposition of a so-called humanitarian corridor proposed by the Russian President is not good enough," Save the Children's Syria Response Director said on Tuesday. 

Read more here: 'Children are living in hell': Aid group slams Russia truce in Eastern Ghouta as 'inadequate'

Meanwhile, civilians shunned Russia's offer to quit the besieged enclave for a second day on Wednesday, as rebels and Moscow blamed each other for the humanitarian deadlock.

The bombardment quietened since the Kremlin ordered the daily "humanitarian pause", but not one of the battered region's 400,000 residents left to board buses provided by the regime.

"The humanitarian corridor is open to all those who wish to return to the fold of the homeland, but so far nobody came and this is the second day," a military officer at the checkpoint said.

Regime-backer Russia on Monday announced five-hour halts in the bombardment of the enclave and said it was guaranteeing civilians safe passage to flee.

The move fell far short of a full ceasefire voted for by the United Nations Security Council - but was still welcomed inside the enclave as some respite from one of the bloodiest assaults in Syria's seven-year-old war.

Despite the step, the UN demanded that all sides must implement the total truce approved on Saturday, and said some 40 trucks loaded with aid were waiting for the violence to stop. Mark Lowcock, the UN under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said trucks loaded with supplies had been poised to go to 10 besieged areas including Douma, the main town in the enclave, since Saturday.

But he said there has been no access for humanitarian convoys, nor authorisation by the regime to go into the besieged areas, nor medical evacuations since the Security Council resolution was passed.

"During the truce, the ceasefire is almost enforced," said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights head Rami Abdel Rahman, adding that nine civilians were killed in strikes before and after on Wednesday.

The first five-hour "pause" on Tuesday passed with only two killed in regime bombardment, according to the Britain-based war monitor.

Read more here: Syrian regime renews bombardment in Eastern Ghouta despite Russia's 'humanitarian pause'

Recent satellite images of one neighbourhood in Eastern Ghouta show up to 71 percent of buildings destroyed or damaged.

"As this conflict enters its eighth year, it’s clear that it is far from being resolved, and all parties involved continue to show utter contempt for children’s lives and wellbeing. The fighting must cease and aid agencies must be allowed to deliver lifesaving humanitarian assistance or more children will die," said Save the Children's Sonia Khush. 

Eastern Ghouta, the last rebel bastion near the capital, has been under a devastating regime siege since 2013, leading to chronic food and medicine shortages which have brought its 400,000 residents to the brink of starvation.

The Syrian conflict began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by President Bashar al-Assad, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings, triggering an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army.

According to independent monitors, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies, and millions have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria. The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.