Syrian regime offensive in Eastern Ghouta 'has killed 338'

Syrian regime offensive in Eastern Ghouta 'has killed 338'
4 min read
20 November, 2015
Hundreds of civilians have been killed and thousands of homes destroyed in a three-week regime offensive against Eastern Ghouta.
At least 338 people - including 69 children and 47 women - have been killed in a three-week offensive on the suburbs of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, a local monitoring group has reported.

According to the Eastern Ghouta Relief Office's department of statistics quoted by The Syrian Observer, around 1,602 people were also wounded and 1,067 houses were destroyed.

Around 252 of the victims were residents of Douma, 10km northeast of Damascus, while 820 houses are said to have been destroyed in the rebel-held city, the centre said.

After Russia reportedly presented East Ghouta rebels with a 15-day ceasefire as a goodwill gesture slated to begin on Thursday, the Syrian regime conducted an offensive on Douma the same day.

Hours after the ceasefire was supposed to go into effect, the Syrian regime pounded the rebels' Douma stronghold with nearly a dozen airstrikes, cluster bomb munitions and mortars, all while attempting to storm the city on the ground.

Sources in the area told al-Araby al-Jadeed Arabic that 14 were killed and 50 were injured in the Syrian regime bombardment of the city.

Mohammad Yahya Maktabi, secretary-general of the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC), told al-Araby al-Jadeed that a meeting was to be held on Friday between SNC officials and military leaders in Eastern Ghouta to further discuss the ceasefire, which no side has yet officially ruled out.

"The military leaders on the ground have defended civilians in the area, and are in the best position to make the right decisions," he said. "The SNC supports any step that would stop the regime's crimes against civilians."

Maktabi stressed the need for a nationwide ceasefire, saying partial ceasefires helped the regime to regroup its forces in other areas. He also called for linking any ceasefire to the wider political process.

As al-Araby al-Jadeed reported on Friday, world powers are currently attempting to broker a ceasefire in Syria - but to exclude areas held by the Islamic State group.

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Syrian regime troops and fighters from Iran, alongside Lebanon's Hizballah, backed by Russian airstrikes, had launched a major offensive against the eastern and western suburbs of Damascus on Thursday, October 29.

Turkey summons Russian ambassador

Meanwhile, Turkey has summoned Russia's ambassador in protest at the "intensive" bombing of Turkmen villages in northern Syria by Russian warplanes, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters on Friday.

The Turkish foreign ministry said in a separate statement that the attacks targeting civilian Turkmen villages "could lead to serious consequences", and called for an immediate end to the operation.

Russia continued on Friday to ramp up its bombardment of Syria, firing cruise missiles at both Islamic State and rebel-held areas from vessels in the Mediterranean Sea and long-range strategic bombers.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and activist media outlets on Friday reported a large barrage of missile attacks striking rebel-held areas of the Idlib and Hama province, where IS has no military presence.

Moscow on Tuesday significantly upped the tempo of its aerial campaign in Syria after announcing that it now believed Metrojet Flight 9268 was brought down over the Sinai by a terrorist attack, for which IS earlier claimed responsibility.

The Russian Defence Ministry has since touted that it conducted three "massive" waves of airstrikes against so-called IS targets in Syria.

Moscow said that long-range Tu-22M3 bombers, taking off from Russia, had launched cruise missiles in conjunction with airstrikes from Latakia-based Russian fighter jets.

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Meanwhile, US officials told Reuters that Russia had also been shooting cruise missiles from assets in the Mediterranean Sea, for the first time since the start of its military intervention in Syria on 30 September.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that six missiles had struck areas on "on the road connecting the villages of Ehsim and al-Barra, as well as other areas in Jabal al-Zawiya and the village of al-Sahn near Jisr al-Shughur".

"This caused injuries and material damage to civilian property," said the Observatory.

Meanwhile, in the Hama province, the monitoring NGO said that "what was thought to be a ballistic missile hit an area [near] the village of Sarireef to the west of Hama".

"News has also emerged of the death of four civilians and the injury [of others] due to a suspected ballistic missile strike on areas in the village of Midan al-Ghazal in rural Hama's Jabal Shahshabo [area] this morning."

Activist media further reported on the Russian missile strikes throughout northwest Syria, with Shaam News saying that a barrage rocked Idlib's Jabal al-Zawiya area.

Fierce fighting continued across multiple parts of Syria during Friday. Many observers believe the conflict is only likely to escalate further, as warring parties vie to improve their negotiating hands ahead of the next round of the Vienna peace talks.