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Wednesday, February 21, 2018, 17:33
Syria's Ghouta residents 'wait to die' as bombs fall
By Reuters
Wednesday, February 21, 2018, 17:33 By Reuters

In this photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets on Feb 20, 2018 shows members of the group running to help survivors on a street attacked by airstrikes and shelling by the Syrian government forces in Damascus suburb of Ghouta. (SYRIAN CIVIL DEFENSE WHITE HELMETS VIA AP)

BEIRUT – Residents of Syria's eastern Ghouta said they were "waiting their turn to die" early on Wednesday, after more pro-government rockets and barrel bombs fell on the besieged rebel enclave.

Five died and over 200 were injured early on Wednesday in the area, hammered by one of the heaviest bombardments in seven years of war that has killed at least 250 people in 48 hours, a war monitor said.

Recent violence in the besieged suburb is part of a wider surge in fighting on several fronts as President Bashar al-Assad's military pushes to end the seven-year rebellion against him

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The pace of the pace of the bombardment appeared to slacken overnight, but its intensity resumed later on Wednesday morning said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It followed a massive escalation in strikes that began late on Sunday. The enclave is home to 400,000 people.

The Kremlin said on Wednesday that Western allegations the Russian Air Force was responsible for civilian deaths in the rebel-held district of eastern Ghouta outside the Syrian capital Damascus were groundless.

"These are groundless accusations, we don't know what they are based on," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, when asked about Western assertions that Russia was to blame for some of the deaths in eastern Ghouta.

"They (the allegations) are not backed up with any specific information. We do not agree with them," Peskov told a conference call with reporters.

Pro-government forces fired rockets and dropped barrel bombs from helicopters on the towns and villages of the rural district just outside Damascus, where rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad have their last big redoubt near the capital, it added.

"We are waiting our turn to die. This is the only thing I can say," said Bilal Abu Salah, 22, whose wife is five months pregnant with their first child in the biggest eastern Ghoutatown Douma.

They fear the terror of the bombardment will bring her into labor early, he said.

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"Nearly all people living here live in shelters now. There are five or six families in one home. There is no food, no markets," he said.

The United Nations has decried the assault on eastern Ghouta, where hospitals and other civilian infrastructure have been hit, as unacceptable, warning that the bombings may constitute war crimes.

This photo provided by the Syrian anti-government activist group Ghouta Media Center, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, on Feb 20, 2018 shows a Syrian paramedic, right, treating an injured man who was wounded by the shelling by the Syrian government forces, at a makeshift hospital, in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, Syria. (GHOUTA MEDIA CENTER VIA AP)

The Syrian government and its ally Russia, which has backed Assad with air power since 2015, say they do not target civilians. They also deny using the inaccurate explosive barrel bombs dropped from helicopters whose use has been condemned by the UN.

Conditions in eastern Ghouta, besieged since 2013, had increasingly alarmed aid agencies even before the latest assault, as shortages of food, medicine and other basic necessities caused suffering and illness.

Rebels have also been firing mortars on the districts of Damascus near eastern Ghouta, wounding two people on Wednesday, state media reported. Rebel mortars killed at least six people on Tuesday.

This photo provided on Feb 20, 2018 by the Syrian Civil Defense group known shows members of the Syrian Civil Defense group carrying a man who was wounded during airstrikes and shelling by Syrian government forces, in Ghouta. (SYRIAN CIVIL DEFENSE WHITE HELMETS, VIA AP)

"Today, residential areas, Damascus hotels, as well as Russia’s Center for Syrian Reconciliation, received massive bombardment by illegal armed groups from Eastern Ghouta,"Russia's Defense Ministry said late on Tuesday.

Eastern Ghouta is one of the "de-escalation zones" agreed by Russia, Iran and Turkey as part of their diplomatic efforts. But a former al Qaeda affiliate is not included in the truces and it has a small presence there.

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