Fresh airstrikes hit Syria's Eastern Ghouta as '7,000 civilians flee'

Fresh airstrikes hit Syria's Eastern Ghouta as '7,000 civilians flee'
The Assad regime launched fresh strikes using napalm and cluster bombs on besieged Eastern Ghouta and rebel-held Idlib, amid reports rebels shot down a regime helicopter.
3 min read
17 March, 2018
The Assad regime's destructive offensive on rebel-held Ghouta continues into its second month [Getty]
At least 30 casualties were reported in Eastern Ghouta on Saturday morning after regime airstrikes targeted the village of Zamalka, amid Russian reports that over 7,000 people fled the besieged enclave on Saturday morning alone.

Rebel group Jaish al-Islam also reported shooting down a regime helicopter using an Osa missile system.

Syrian regime planes launched a series of dawn strikes using highly-explosive missiles on civilian areas on Zamalka, resulting in a number of deaths and injuries, Syrian activist Mohammed al-Shami told al-Araby al-Jadeed.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Saturday's strikes killed at least 30 people.

A similar bombardment using cluster bombs targeted residential neighbourhoods in Douma and the village of Hazza, setting fire to buildings and infrastructure causing widespread damage.

On Friday, regime air bombardment - which launched burning napalm and concussion bombs - killed 80 civilians in Kafr Batna and Zamalka.

At least three children were also reported killed after regime airstrikes hit Maarat al-Nu'man in opposition-held Idlib, al-Araby al-Jadeed reported.

The regime offensive has retaken 70 percent of the enclave since February 18, according to AFP.

Russian state news agency TASS reported on Saturday that over 7,000 people had left Eastern Ghouta that morning alone.

"Over 7,000 people have left the Hammouriyeh, Hazza and al-Nashabiyah settlements since Saturday morning, the flow of people is similar to that on the first day of exit of civilians from those settlements when 11,000 people left Eastern Ghouta," said Vladimir Zolotukhin, a spokesman for the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Opposing Parties in Syria.

These reports however have not yet been verified by any other source.

In another development, Jaish al-Islam announced shortly after midnight on Friday it had shot down a regime helicopter in Ghouta using an Osa air defence system.

The group posted video footage on Twitter of the incident, captioned "Watch: The moment a helicopter in the skies of Eastern Ghouta is hit and damaged, using a missile from the Osa air defence system."

It was reported that Jaish al-Islam took control of two such air defence systems in August 2013, following an attack on the Autaya Battalion air defence belonging to the Syrian regime in Eastern Ghouta.

The three largest rebel factions in Eastern Ghouta - Jaish al-Islam, Ahrar al-Sham and Faylaq al-Rahman - expressed their willingness in a statement on Friday to negotiate with Russia directly through the UN, citing their refusal to be forcibly expelled from the enclave.

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.