Tue, Mar 13, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Rebel city council warns of ‘catastrophe’ in Douma

DRIVING OUT ‘INSURGENTS’:A monitoring group says more than half a million people have been killed in the Syrian civil war since it erupted seven years ago

Reuters, AMMAN and BEIRUT

Lights and smoke are pictured on Sunday evening during Syrian government bombardment of the rebel-held town of Arbin in the Eastern Ghouta region.

Photo: AFP

Syria’s rebel-held city of Douma faces a “catastrophic” situation after becoming the main haven for thousands of people fleeing advances by government forces into eastern Ghouta, its local council said yesterday.

Hundreds of people have been killed in the Syrian army’s fierce air and artillery bombardment of eastern Ghouta since Feb. 18 as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government seeks to crush the last major rebel stronghold near the capital, Damascus.

Government forces have now captured more than half of the rebel enclave and have entirely besieged Douma, the largest urban center in eastern Ghouta, cutting it off from neighboring areas with advances on Saturday and Sunday.

The opposition-run council in Douma said thousands of families were now sheltering in open streets and public gardens as existing basements and shelters were already overcrowded.

“After more than 20 days of the barbaric campaign and mass annihilation of eastern Ghouta … this has led to a deterioration of the humanitarian and food situation to a catastrophic level,” the council said in a statement.

“It is completely uninhabitable. It is not even safe to put chickens in. There is no bathroom, just one toilet, and there are 300 people,” said a man cowering in a heavily damaged shelter in Douma, who declined to give his name for fear of reprisals if the army retakes the area.

The Douma council appealed for international help, saying even burials of the dead at the main city cemetery had been suspended due to the intensity of aerial strikes.

At least 70 people were buried in a public park in Douma as the aerial strikes made it difficult to reach the main burial grounds on the outskirts of the city.

Residents said dozens of people were still buried alive under rubble, with rescuers unable to reach them due to the intensity of the raids.

Jaish al-Islam, one of the main rebel groups in eastern Ghouta, yesterday said that it had reached an agreement with Russia to evacuate wounded people. It communicated with Russia through the UN to reach the agreement, it said.

Across eastern Ghouta heavy aerial strikes continued on the towns of Irbeen, Harasta and other residential areas yesterday, state media said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, put the total death toll in Syria’s civil war since it erupted seven years ago at about 511,000 people.

The Observatory, which tracks death tolls using a network of contacts inside Syria, said about 85 percent of the dead had been killed by government forces and their allies.

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