80 Killed in Syria's Ghouta; Shelling and Airstrikes Intensify Despite UN Ceasefire

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 80 died and dozens more were wounded on Monday as government forces ignored the UN call and pressed their assault on the rebel-held eastern Ghouta

Syrians carry a wounded child following reported government bombardments on the rebel-held town of Hamouria, in the besieged eastern Ghouta, March 5, 2018.
ABDULMONAM EASSA/AFP

A war-monitoring group says Syrian government shelling and airstrikes killed 80 people in the besieged eastern suburbs of Damascus on Monday, making it the deadliest day there since the UN's Security Council in February called on a 30-day ceasefire in eastern Ghouta, where 400,000 people live.

To really understand Israel and the Middle East - subscribe to Haaretz

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 80 died and dozens more were wounded on Monday as government forces ignored the UN call and pressed their assault on the rebel-held eastern Ghouta.

The International Committee for the Red Cross says it was forced to halt aid delivery to the besieged eastern suburbs of Damascus on Monday after the security situation deteriorated while aid workers were on the ground.

Ingy Sedky, the ICRC spokeswoman in Syria says most of the aid from a 46-truck convoy was delivered to the town of Douma in eastern Ghouta but the mission was cut short before the rest of the supplies could be unloaded.

A boy stands as an aid convoy of Syrian Arab Red Crescent drives through the besieged town of Douma, eastern Ghouta, Syria, March 5, 2018.
\ BASSAM KHABIEH/ REUTERS

Iyad Abdelaziz, a member of the Douma Local Council, says nine aid trucks had to leave the area after government shelling and airstrikes intensified in the evening.

Monday's shipment was the first to enter eastern Ghouta amid weeks of a crippling siege and a government assault that has killed hundreds.

UNICEF said on Tuesday that at least 1,000 children reportedly killed or seriously injured across Syria so far this year. A UNICEF official said that living underground has become a norm in eastern Ghouta, with some families staying in basements for the last four weeks.

Russia offers rebels safe passage out 

The Russian defense ministry extended an offer to Syrians in the besieged eastern suburbs of Damascus on Tuesday, saying armed rebels with their families — not just civilians — can also leave eastern Ghouta through a safe corridor.

A wounded Syrian child is comforted by a man following a reported air strike by Syrian government forces in Kafr Batna, in eastern Ghouta, March 5, 2018.
AMMAR SULEIMAN/AFP

However, one of the main Syrian rebel groups in eastern Ghouta said it has had no contact with Russia over its proposal to give fighters safe passage out of the besieged enclave with their families and personal weapons. 

"There is no contact with the Russians," Wael Alwan, the Istanbul-based spokesman for the Failaq al-Rahman group, told Reuters in a text message. 

Russia has been a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, helping him the tide of the bloody civil war in his favor.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry says the country plans to establish camps in nine locations in northern Syria to house people displaced by fighting amid Ankara's offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said on Tuesday that the camps would be built in a zone controlled by Turkish-backed forces, as well as in Idlib province where Turkish forces are trying establishing a "de-escalation zone" under an agreement reached between Turkey, Russia and Iran.

Aksoy said the camps would host a total of 170,000 people.

Turkey controls a swath of territory revolving around the town of al-Rai, al-Bab and Jarablus — a border zone that Turkey and Turkey-backed rebels took from the Islamic State group in 2016.

Turkey has also launched a campaign to oust a Syrian Kurdish militia from the enclave of Afrin that Ankara considers to be "terrorist" and linked to an insurgency within Turkey's own borders.