Syrian opposition activists are reporting that dozens of people were killed and scores wounded when an airstrike hit a rebel-held town east of the capital Damascus, The Washington Post reports. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 30 people were killed in Saturday’s airstrike on Zamalka that hit a group of people who were trying to flee into government-controlled areas.
The latest deaths brought the toll for the nearly month-old offensive to 1,364, with world powers still unable to stop one of the devastating conflict’s worst crises. A reporter in the town contributing to AFP saw eight charred bodies in the streets and said wounded people were left in the roads as rescue centres had been put out of service by bombing.
The opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense said the airstrike killed dozens and wounded scores, adding that paramedics are trying to help people. Tens of thousands of residents from the area known as eastern Ghouta have fled to government-controlled districts since Thursday. Syrian state TV aired live footage showing hundreds of men, women and children carrying their belongings and marching from the town of Hamouria that was recently captured by Syrian troops.
Russia’s military says more than 11,000 people have left Syria’s besieged eastern Ghouta outside the capital Damascus in the past few hours as government forces step up an offensive on the rebel enclave. Maj. Gen. Vladimir Zolotukhin was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that some 3,000 people have been leaving every hour Saturday through a government-run humanitarian corridor monitored by the Russian military.
Previously, The Washington Post reported that airstrikes in Syria killed more than 100 people on Friday as civilians, weary and many wounded, fled besieged areas for the second straight day. The majority of the deaths occurred in eastern Ghouta, where government forces have been on a crushing offensive for three weeks, capturing 70 percent of the besieged area. The weekslong violence has left more than 1,300 civilians dead, 5,000 wounded and forced thousands to flee to government-controlled areas.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said bombing and shelling by government and Russian forces killed a total of 76 people in eastern Ghouta, including 64 killed in Kafr Batna and another 12 in Saqba. Government forces also captured the nearby town of Jisreen, it said.
“If the world does not move, Ghouta will be exterminated,” said Siraj Mahmoud, a member of the opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense search-and-rescue group.
Friday’s government attack on Kafr Batna was with cluster bombs, napalm-like incendiary weapons, and conventional explosives, the Observatory said. Photos and videos released from the area showed charred bodies covered with sheets lined up near what appeared to be shops. A medical charity supporting hospitals in eastern Ghouta, the Syrian American Medical Society, said doctors in Kafr Batna were treating patients for severe burn wounds.
“The medical situation is catastrophic. We can’t stay in this situation for long,” said Dr. Zouhair Kahaleh in the nearby town of Arbeen. Roads were closed, he said, and “we can’t treat some of the cases here. It’s a major challenge to reach the wounded because of the intensity of the airstrikes.”
The Observatory said another 36 people were killed in the Kurdish-held town of Afrin in northern Syria, where Turkish troops and Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters have been on the offensive since Jan. 20. The dead included nine killed in airstrikes that hit the town’s general hospital.
Exhausted and shell-shocked civilians streamed out of the rebel enclave Friday, a day after tens of thousands evacuated the area in the biggest single-day exodus of the war. A man interviewed in Hamouria Friday on state-affiliated al-Ikhbariya TV said he had gone two days without food. Others said rebels hoarded food and humiliated civilians, even shooting people trying to leave.
Thousands of people continued to flee from battlegrounds in northern and southern Syria on Friday amid reports that rebels in a Damascus suburb were preventing some residents from leaving the besieged area, CNN reports.
Images on Syrian state TV showed hundreds of people carrying their belongings out of Eastern Ghouta on foot and in the back of pickup trucks Thursday. Soldiers were seen in the footage, but there were no signs of local or international aid groups. The Red Cross told CNN it was not involved in the exodus.
But some residents in Douma, the largest town in Eastern Ghouta, were barred from leaving by rebels despite begging international aid groups for help, an official who was on the ground in Douma on Thursday told CNN.
The source witnessed firsthand an encounter between a woman slated to be medically evacuated with her family, members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent tasked with escorting the family out of Douma, and rebel fighters. Members of the rebel group ordered the woman’s 16-year-old son to stay behind.
“I saw the discussion between the group inside and SARC (the Syrian Arab Red Crescent) and the woman who was begging to get her little son out of the area. They didn’t accept that. She was completely desperate and she wanted to take her son out, but they didn’t let her go, and SARC couldn’t do anything about it. … They have to get approval of the groups who are inside,” the official said.
The Syrian regime and rebel fighters have accused each other of shelling the roughly 5-kilometer-long passage leading from Eastern Ghouta to relative safety in government-held areas of the capital. Given the dangers of using the corridor without an escort, the only hope for residents is to be put on a medical evacuation list — which already has more than 1,000 names — and to be accompanied out by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the source and an analyst said.
“Some of the armed groups do actively prevent people leaving from Eastern Ghouta. The fighters who are obviously holed up in a corner are using all means at their disposal, including preventing civilians from leaving them to defend their position. You could argue that it’s a form of human shields. The civilians in Ghouta are very much trapped between two sides,” Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, told CNN.