Deadly Syria bombardments as UN aid boss visits

AFP , Tuesday 9 Jan 2018

People stand on rubble of damaged buildings, after an airstrike in the besieged town of Hamoria, Eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria Janauary 9, 2018 (Photo: Reuters)

Bombardments of a Syria rebel enclave and Damascus Tuesday left at least 22 people dead, a monitor and state media said, as the UN's humanitarian chief paid his first visit to the country.

At least 18 civilians, including three children, were killed in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta near Damascus by artillery fire and air strikes from either regime or Russian aircraft, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Rebels bombarded two districts of the capital in retaliation, with Syrian state media reporting four people were killed.

Eastern Ghouta has been under government siege since 2013 and its estimated 400,000 inhabitants are suffering severe shortages of food and medicine.

The deadliest strikes hit the Hammuriyeh district, while more than 80 people were wounded in the bombardments of the rebel territory, said the Observatory, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria.

An AFP correspondent saw a rescuer emerge from the rubble with a child in their arms, as a man trapped up to his waist waited for people to dig him out.

The latest bloodshed in Syria's war -- which is estimated to have claimed the lives of 340,000 people since 2011 -- came as UN humanitarian boss Mark Lowcock discussed getting aid to civilians.

Lowcock, who took over as under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs in September, met with Foreign Minister Walid Muallem as the UN seeks greater access to besieged populations.

The United Nations has said some 500 people are in critical condition inside Eastern Ghouta and need to be evacuated for urgent medical treatment.

Twenty-nine patients, mainly children, were allowed out in December under a deal struck between the regime and rebels.

Eastern Ghouta was one of four "de-escalation zones" agreed under a deal between rebel and regime backers but the opposition stronghold remains the target of intense regime air strikes.

Syrian state news agency SANA also reported that Israeli jets and missiles struck regime positions overnight northeast of Damascus.

The agency said the Syrian army had hit an Israeli plane as they rebuffed the attack, but added missiles had caused damage.

Israel has sought to remain on the sidelines of the Syrian conflict but has carried out air raids against regime forces and allied fighters from Lebanese group Hezbollah.

The Observatory said the night raids targeted army and Hezbollah weapons depots.

Syria's protracted conflict has tipped dramatically in the favour of President Bashar al-Assad thanks in major part to a two-year military intervention by Moscow.

Assad's forces are currently conducting an operation to carve out territory in the northwestern Idlib province, the last one in Syria that had remained fully beyond their control.

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