Syria regime bombing kills dozens in Eastern Ghouta as ground assault looms
Over the past 24 hours more than 71 civilians have been killed in the besieged enclave in heavy bombing which started escalating on Sunday evening, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.
Held by rebels since 2012, Eastern Ghouta is the last opposition pocket around Damascus and Syrian regime president Bashar al-Assad has dispatched reinforcements there in an apparent bid to retake it.
A barrage of airstrikes, rocket fire, and artillery slammed into several towns across Eastern Ghouta on Monday killing and wounding dozens of civilians.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 20 were killed in airstrikes on Hammuriyeh and nine others in bombardments on Saqba.
The rest were killed when other areas were pounded. Four children were among the dead.
Residents of Hammuriyeh could be seen rushing inside in a panic as soon as they heard the sound of airplanes.
Alaa al-Din, a 23-year-old Syrian in Hammuriyeh, said civilians were afraid of a potential government offensive.
"Ghouta's fate is unknown. We've got nothing but God's mercy and hiding out in our basements," he told AFP on Monday.
"There's no alternative."
Regime shelling also hit the town of Douma, where an AFP correspondent saw five toddlers brought to a hospital, covered in dust and wailing uncontrollably.
Medics offered them biscuits to calm them down, to no avail.
Eastern Ghouta is held by two main Islamist factions, but jihadists control small pockets including one directly adjacent to the capital.
The Observatory and Syrian daily newspaper Al-Watan had said negotiations were under way for the evacuation of jihadists from Eastern Ghouta.
But escalating military pressure indicate that the regime would opt for a ground assault instead of talks, the monitor said.
Regime troops carried out a relentless five-day bombing campaign earlier this month that killed around 250 civilians in the enclave and wounded hundreds.
Around the same time, the monitor said, the regime began dispatching military reinforcements to Eastern Ghouta.
After days of relative calm, the regime sent more than 260 rockets sailing into Eastern Ghouta on Sunday.
Those rockets, as well as artillery fire and air strikes, killed 17 civilians, said the Observatory.
The regime is keen to regain control of Eastern Ghouta to halt the deadly salvo of rockets and mortars that rebels fire on Damascus.
About half a dozen rockets hit the capital Sunday night, AFP correspondents said. State news agency SANA reported that one person was killed.
More than 20 civilians have been killed by rebel fire this month alone in regime-held Damascus.
More than 340,000 people have been killed since Syria's conflict erupted in 2011 with protests against Assad's government.