UN accuses Syria regime of orchestrating 'apocalypse'
The Syrian regime is orchestrating an "apocalypse" that will strike elsewhere following the devastating crisis unfolding in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, the UN human rights chief said on Wednesday.
In his annual report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Zeid Raad al-Hussein said the government's actions in the area were "legally and morally unsustainable", while warning the next nightmare for Syrian civilians would inevitably arrive soon.
"This month, it is eastern Ghouta which is, in the words of the Secretary General, hell on earth; next month or the month after, it will be somewhere else where people face an apocalypse - an apocalypse intended, planned and executed by individuals within the government, apparently with the full backing of some of their foreign supporters," Zeid told the council.
"It is urgent to reverse this catastrophic course, and to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court," he added.
The Syrian army and allied militia launched an offensive on February 18 to retake eastern Ghouta, the last rebel-controlled region near the capital Damascus.
The offensive has been backed by Russia, the government's key military ally.
They have since recaptured more than 40 percent of the area with support from a devastating bombing campaign that has killed more than 800 civilians.
By Wednesday, government troops were at the edges of several key towns, including Misraba, Beit Sawa, Jisreen and Hammuriyeh.
Reports say the Syrian regime is seeking to divide the besieged enclave in two and further squeeze rebels and tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside.
The government, determined to wrest the suburbs from the control of rebels after seven years of war, has resorted to extreme levels of shelling and bombardment to clear the way for its troops to advance on the ground.
Beyond eastern Ghouta, Zeid said the seven-year-old conflict in Syria was entering "a new phase of horror", noting rising violence in the rebel-held area of Idlib and Turkey's offensive in Afrin.
"When you are prepared to kill your own people so easily, lying is easy too. Claims by the government of Syria that it is taking every measure to protect its civilian population are frankly ridiculous," Zeid said.
At least 800 civilians have been killed since the offensive started Feb. 18, according to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights monitoring group. Russia's military by its own admission is playing a key role supporting the assault.
Russia's military announced Monday it was offering safe passage for rebels and their families out of eastern Ghouta, where some 400,000 people have been trapped under a relentless government campaign of shelling and airstrikes.