Air strikes kill dozens in Syria underground shelter,…

25 March, 2018, 00:45 | Author: Roderick Gutierrez
  • A boy holds a tray of cookies in the besieged town of Douma Eastern Ghouta

Under Friday's agreement, rebels and civilians in areas held by Faylaq al-Rahman are to be bussed to opposition-held territory in northwestern Syria.

Eastern Ghouta was once the opposition's main bastion on the outskirts of Damascus, but the government has recaptured more than 90 percent of it through a mixture of military pressure and evacuation deals.

Damascus and its ally Moscow have implemented a "leave or die" strategy with deadly air strikes on the enclave.

A deal, struck with another group for the smaller pocket of Harasta, began on Thursday and talks are under way for the third and final pocket, which includes Douma.

The departure comes a day after Faylaq al-Rahman agreed to surrender its territory in Ghouta - including the suburbs of Arbeen, Zamalka, Ein Tarma, and Jobar - in exchange for safe passage north to Idlib province. AFP reporters saw similar munitions fall on Douma.

The airstrikes took place early morning in eastern Ghouta after the midnight ceasefire deadline had passed.

"Attacks of bombardments, all kinds of illegal weapons being used", a United Nations official said Friday referring to reports of intense airstrikes targeting Syria's besieged Eastern Ghouta.

Following the evacuation of the last group of armed men, the SOHR added that Ahrar al-Sham's combatants were no longer present in Eastern Ghouta.

"Our situation in Harasta was very tragic", said Abu Mohammed, a civilian who arrived at a camp for the evacuees in the town of Maarat al-Ikhwan.

"We unfortunately have a steady stream of reports coming out of Eastern Ghouta: of attacks of bombardments, all kinds of illegal weapons being used." said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), during a news conference in Geneva. Some children stayed in basements for four months with no food.

The evacuation from Harasta started on Thursday and ended Friday evening, with a total of 59 buses transporting 3,000 people, including 1,000 rebels and 2,000 of their families.

Retaking Eastern Ghouta, a sprawling semi-rural area which had escaped government control since 2012 and lies within mortar range of central Damascus, was made a priority this year after a string of regime gains.

Each one of the three pockets has come under intense bombardment, essentially forcing the rebels that control them to sue for an evacuation.

"Other civilians are leaving as well, people who were involved in opposition activities like media activists, medics, civil defense volunteers", said Al Jazeera correspondent Zeina Khodr, explaining that they are often considered terrorists by state authorities and as such are at risk.

The offensive on Eastern Ghouta has caused widespread outrage.

The government's crushing offensive killed almost 1,500 people and wounded more than 5,000, according to opposition activists.



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