Tuesday, March 19, 2019
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Syrian forces continue bloody offensive in East Ghouta

Residents describe 'catastrophic' scenes as bombardment by regime forces kills over 150 people in the last 48 hours.

Residents from Eastern Ghouta say the incessant shelling of the besieged, rebel-held area has been "crazy and catastrophic", as Syrian regime forces have continued their bombardment, killing more than 150 civilians in the last 48 hours.

"From yesterday until this very moment, we've witnessed all kinds of shelling in our neighbourhood," Shams, a mother of two children, said on Tuesday from Eastern Ghouta.

"Warplanes have not stopped soaring over the city. When the shelling temporarily stops, they start firing missiles at us," she said.

Over the past 24 hours, the relentless air raids and artillery fired by Syrian government forces have left the residents of the Damascus suburb in a state of fright and panic.

Khalid Abulabed, a field doctor in the Damascus suburb, under siege since 2013, described the current situation as "crazy and catastrophic.

"It's indescribable. It reminded me of what we used to see in Aleppo – shelling day and night," Abulabed said.

"Nothing is excluded from the shelling, not schools, not residential areas, not even markets, which has caused a significant increase in the number of people martyred and wounded," he said.

Since Sunday, more than 100 people lost their lives, including at least 20 children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

Over 300 people have suffered wounds, the London-based monitoring group said on Tuesday.

'No signs of life'

Residents say there are no signs of life in the area - home to nearly 400,000 people - especially with the lack of basic necessities, including food and medicine.

"We reached a point where we don't even leave the house during these raids so that if we're attacked, we die together," said Shams.

The attack that began on Sunday reportedly marks an upcoming ground assault, which will soon be launched by the government, the SOHR said.

Eastern Ghouta is the last, remaining rebel-held area east of Damascus, and has been under siege by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces since 2013.

The UN and other rights organisations have continuously called for a permanent ceasefire and for the government to lift the "crippling" blockade.

As a result of the tight siege, aid convoys have not been able to deliver much of the desperately needed food and medical supplies, and overall access to the enclave remains "woefully inadequate".

On February 14, a convoy's deliveries reached only 2.6 percent of the estimated 272,500 people in need of humanitarian aid, according to Ali al-Za'tari, the UN's humanitarian coordinator in Syria.

The lack of commodities has left residents with two main - and scarce – options to stay afloat, including rice and bread.

Facing severe food shortages, coupled with the sharp rise in food prices, mothers like Shams fear dying of starvation.

"Nothing else is available because of the siege. You can't even find any shopkeepers to sell you anything in the midst of these attacks – we're starving," Shams from Eastern Ghouta said.

"If we don't die from the shelling, we will of starvation."

The siege has also forced doctors such as Abulabed to perform medical procedures on those wounded using "very basic" equipment.

"We don't even have access to adequate medical equipment," said Abulabed.

On Tuesday, UNICEF issued a blank statement to express "outrage" over the children who lost their lives to the latest wave of attacks.

Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF's regional director, said: "We no longer have the words to describe children's suffering and our outrage.

"Do those inflicting the suffering still have words to justify their barbaric acts?" he asked.

And earlier on Tuesday, the UN said it was alarmed by "the extreme escalation in hostilities" in Eastern Ghouta.

In a statement, it called for an "immediate" end to the bombardment of the rebel stronghold.

"The recent escalation of violence compounds an already precarious humanitarian situation," Panos Moumtzis, the UN's regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, said in a statement on Tuesday.

"It's imperative to end this senseless human suffering now. Such targeting of innocent civilians and infrastructure must stop now."

In an apparent bid to lessen fighting last year, Eastern Ghouta was classified as a "de-escalation" zone by the Syrian government and its allies - including Russia, Iran and Turkey. But violence has continued despite the truce agreement.

Syria's other de-escalation zones include parts of the northeastern province of Idlib, areas in northern Homs province, and rebel-controlled territory in the south, near the border with Jordan.

Despite the agreement, nearly 300 people have been killed in Eastern Ghouta and Idlib since the beginning of this month.

Now in its seventh year, the Syrian Civil War has killed hundreds of thousands of people, and has forced millions to flee the country.

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