The UN’s humanitarian boss yesterday fiercely condemned attacks against civilians in Syria at a press conference in Damascus, a day after one of the bloodiest government raids in the four-year war.
“I am horrified by the total disrespect for civilian life in this conflict,” UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien said in a statement.
He said he was “particularly appalled” by reports of civilian deaths in Sunday’s airstrikes on the rebel-held town of Douma, and said attacks on civilians “must stop.”
O’Brien has been visiting Syria for the first time since his appointment in May.
His comments came as the death toll from the series of attacks on a market in Douma rose to 96, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
It said another 240 people were wounded, some of whom were in critical condition.
The Local Coordination Committees, a grassroots network of anti-regime activists, said overnight that at least 105 people had been killed in Douma, which lies in the opposition bastion of Eastern Ghouta.
The area is the regular target of government airstrikes and has been under siege for nearly two years, but Sunday’s raids were one of the bloodiest regime attacks in the country’s four-year war.
In one makeshift clinic, whole sections of floor were covered with rows of the dead, as volunteers worked to wrap each victim in a white shroud.
Amnesty International last week accused the government of committing war crimes in Eastern Ghouta, saying its heavy aerial bombardment of the area was compounding the misery created by the blockade.
The group also accused rebels in the area of war crimes for firing rockets indiscriminately at the capital.
In related news, Turkey and the US on Sunday said that Washington would withdraw its Patriot missile batteries from the country in October after bolstering Ankara’s air defenses against threats from Syria’s civil war.
The NATO mandate for the mission will run out in October and will not be renewed, but the US is prepared to return Patriot assets and personnel to Turkey within one week if needed, a joint Turkish-US statement said.
“They will be redeployed to the US for critical modernization upgrades that will ensure the US missile defense force remains capable of countering evolving global threats and protecting Allies and partners, including Turkey,” the statement said.
It also emphasized that Washington remains “committed to supporting Turkey’s air defense capabilities, including against ballistic missile risks and threats ... and its security and regional stability.”
A US defense official stressed that the move by the US military was for the purpose of force modernization.
“It does not reflect a decision by the NATO alliance to reduce support for Turkey’s air defense,” the official said.
The decision comes less than a month after Turkey opened its southeastern Incirlik air base to US fighter jets to carry out bombing raids against Islamic State targets in Syria.
The US, the Netherlands and Germany have provided a total of six Patriot missile batteries along the Turkish border with Syria. Germany on Saturday announced it would withdraw its two missile systems from Turkey from Jan. 31 next year.
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