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659 civilians killed in Eastern Ghouta since February: UN

Wounded Syrian men are seated at a makeshift hospital in the rebel-held town of Douma, following air strikes by regime forces on the besieged Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on February 20, 2018. (AFP / Hamza Al-Ajweh)
BEIRUT/GENEVA: Thousands of civilians have fled advances by Syrian regime forces in Eastern Ghouta in the last two days, a war monitor and a resident said, as Damascus makes rapid gains against the last major opposition enclave near the capital.
Regime forces need to advance just a few more kilometers further to split the enclave in two, said a commander in the alliance that backs President Bashar Assad who said on Sunday his forces must push on with their campaign.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces had seized around a quarter of Eastern Ghouta in a ground assault that began on Feb. 27, building on a ferocious air and artillery bombardment that has killed hundreds.
It said shelling and airstrikes have killed 659 people in Eastern Ghouta since Feb. 18, making the offensive one of the deadliest of the war, while opposition shelling of Damascus has killed 27.
A UN humanitarian official said 400,000 people in Eastern Ghouta were being subjected to unacceptable “collective punishment,” which is illegal under the Geneva Conventions.
It says shelling and airstrikes have killed 659 people in eastern Ghouta since Feb. 18, making the offensive one of the deadliest of the war, while rebel shelling of Damascus has killed 27.
Orient TV, which supports the opposition, said advances by pro-Assad forces had triggered large-scale displacement.
On the international front, US President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May said Russia and Syria were responsible for the “heart-breaking human suffering” in Eastern Ghouta.
The two leaders, during a phone call, “agreed it was a humanitarian catastrophe, and that the overwhelming responsibility for the heart-breaking human suffering lay with the Syrian regime and Russia, as the regime’s main backer,” the premier’s office said.
French President Emmanuel Macron called on his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani to put the “necessary pressure” on Syria’s regime to halt “indiscriminate” attacks on civilians.
Also in a phone call, Macron underscored the “particular responsiblity for Iran, because of its ties to the regime, regarding the implementation of the humanitarian truce” sought by the UN, his office said.
The UN’s regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Panos Moumtzis, sounded the alarm over the increased violence.

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