Rescuers say cannot keep up with airstrikes battering Eastern Ghouta

As the bombs rain down, rescuers struggling to pull people from the rubble in Eastern Ghouta, Syria. (Reuters)
Updated 24 February 2018
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Rescuers say cannot keep up with airstrikes battering Eastern Ghouta

BEIRUT: Rescuers in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta said the bombing would not let up long enough for them to count the bodies, in one of the bloodiest air assaults of the seven-year war.
Warplanes pounded the opposition enclave on Saturday, the seventh day in a row of a fierce escalation by Damascus and its allies, an emergency service, a witness and a monitoring group said.
Residents holed up in basements and medical charities decried attacks on a dozen hospitals, as the UN pleaded for a truce in Ghouta, the only big rebel bastion near the capital.
The Damascus regime and Russia, its key ally, say they only target militants. They have said they seek to stop mortar attacks injuring dozens in the capital, and have accused insurgents in Ghouta of holding people as human shields.
There was no immediate comment from the Syrian military.
A total of 127 children figure among the 510 dead in the bombing campaign that the regime launched last Sunday on the enclave just outside Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The Britain-based monitor of the war said at least 32 civilians were killed in Saturday’s strikes, including eight children. A night of heavy bombardment sparked fires in residential districts, it said.
First responders searched for survivors after strikes on Kafr Batna, Douma and Harasta, the Civil Defense in Eastern Ghouta said. The rescue service, which operates in opposition territory, said it had documented at least 350 deaths in four days earlier this week.
“Maybe there are many more,” said Siraj Mahmoud, a civil defense spokesman in the suburbs. “We weren’t able to count the martyrs because the warplanes are touring the skies.”
As the bombs rain down, some hitting emergency centers and vehicles, workers have struggled to pull people from the rubble, Mahmoud said. “But if we have to go out running on our legs and dig with our hands to rescue the people, we will still be here.”
A witness in Douma said he woke up in the early hours on Saturday to the sound of a squadron of jets bombing nearby. The streets have mostly remained empty.
The UN says nearly 400,000 people live in Eastern Ghouta, a pocket of satellite towns and farms under regime siege since 2013, without enough food or medicine.
The local opposition council said it was setting up emergency volunteer teams in several districts to reinforce shelters with sandbags and try to link them through tunnels.
“Every day we say God willing tomorrow will be better ... Today, the main sight in the Ghouta is limbs, blood,” Mahmoud said.
“There is no need to dig graves, we will be buried under our houses.”
The UN Security Council was set to vote on Saturday on a draft resolution which demands a 30-day cease-fire across Syria to allow aid access and medical evacuations.
The 15-member council postponed voting on the text, which Sweden and Kuwait drafted. The delay followed a flurry of last-minute talks after Russia, a veto-holding ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, proposed new amendments.
The truce does not cover militants from Daesh, Al-Qaeda, and the Nusra Front.
Several previous cease-fire attempts have quickly unraveled during the multi-sided conflict, which has killed hundreds of thousands and forced 11 million people out of their homes.
The Syrian regime’s media claimed that Ghouta factions fired mortars at districts of Damascus on Saturday, including near a school. Insurgent shelling wounded six people, it alleged, and Assad’s troops heavily pounded militant targets in the suburbs in response.
The Ghouta pocket has become the war’s latest flashpoint, after a string of rebel defeats and negotiated withdrawals. With Russian jets and Iran-backed militias, Assad’s military has restored state rule over the main cities across western Syria.
Insurgents in Eastern Ghouta have vowed not to accept such a fate, ruling out the kind of evacuation that ended the liberation battle in Aleppo and Homs after bitter sieges.
Russia has blamed Nusra fighters, from Al-Qaeda’s former Syria branch, for provoking the situation in the Ghouta region.
The two main radical factions there in turn accuse their enemies of using the presence of a few hundred terrorists as a pretext for attacks.


War fears mount despite cease-fire between Gaza and Israel

Updated 22 July 2018
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War fears mount despite cease-fire between Gaza and Israel

  • Any further escalation will deepen humanitarian catastrophe in the Strip: UN chief
  • Before the truce, Israel unleashed an offensive it says destroyed more than 60 Hamas targets, including three battalion headquarters

GAZA CITY: After seven chaotic and violent hours, quiet returned to the Gaza Strip Friday night. Yet on Saturday, civilians in the Palestinian enclave and Israel remained fearful of the potential for a new war.
The fatal shooting by a Palestinian sniper of an Israeli soldier during protests along the border on Friday sparked a widespread wave of Israeli bombing, with three fighters from Hamas killed and dozens of targets struck.
After intensive indirect mediation by the UN and Egypt, a truce came into force at midnight, yet both populations remained on high alert of another all-out conflict between Israel and Hamas.
“War is coming. I know that the (Israeli) occupation is carrying out raids to pave the way with their home base,” Somaya Rabaya, 21, from Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza, said.
While the cease-fire deal included an end to rockets and mortars, it didn’t include a commitment by Hamas to stop what Israeli media have dubbed “terror kites,” a senior Hamas source said.
In a brief statement on Saturday, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the movement accepted the cease-fire brokered by Egyptian and UN officials and that calm had been restored. Later, the Israeli military announced a return to civilian routine along the volatile border.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “gravely concerned” about the escalation and called on both sides to step back from the prospect of another devastating conflict. “Any further escalation will endanger the lives of Palestinians and Israelis alike, deepen the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and undermine current efforts to improve livelihoods,” he said.
On Saturday morning in Gaza, 17-year-old Wissam was with a number of other youths fitting kites with small bottles full of diesel, while sheltering behind a sandbank for fear of Israeli strikes. “This morning, they bombed a Hamas observation post near here. I was afraid they would hit us with a missile,” he said.
Israel says it has no interest is engaging in another war with Hamas, but says it will no longer tolerate the Gaza militant campaign of flying the incendiary devices into Israel.
On Friday, Israel unleashed an offensive it says destroyed more than 60 Hamas targets, including three battalion headquarters.
“The attack delivered a severe blow to the Hamas’ training array, command and control abilities, weaponry, aerial defense and logistic capabilities along with additional military infrastructure,” the Israeli military said in a statement, adding that the strikes “will intensify as necessary.”