Damascus toll at 70 after Syria strikes

Casey Dawson
February 7, 2018

Paulo Pinheiro, head of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said the commission had "alarmingly" received several reports that chlorine gas had been used in attacks on the towns of Saraqeb, in the northwestern Idlib Province, and Douma in Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.

"These reports are extremely troubling, and make a mockery of the so-called "de-escalation zones" meant to protect civilians from such bombardment", said Paulo Pinheiro, chair of the Commission.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said warplanes attacking eastern Ghouta near Damascus had struck the towns of Zamalka, Arbaeen, Hazza and Beitu Soua, killing at least 29 people.

Syria's state SANA news agency reported at least three people were killed in shelling on Tuesday from rebel areas on parts of the old city of Damascus.

Syria's multi-sided war has drawn in armies and insurgents from around the world, aggravating a conflict which began as an uprising against President Bashar Al Assad's rule.

Mounting attacks in Idlib come at a time when the escalation of violence in eastern Ghouta has also magnified the longstanding humanitarian crisis in that besieged pocket on the north-eastern outskirts of Damascus.

The White Helmets said airstrikes Tuesday in the Idlib village of Termala killed three people.

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman added that few rebels were among the dead because they rarely left their tunnels and had better protection from air strikes than civilians, estimated to number around 400,000 in Ghouta.

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On Monday, the opposition Syrian National Coalition condemned what it described as a "barbaric onslaught" by Russian and Syrian forces in Idlib province in recent days and demanded United Nations action.

She said OPCW experts are also looking into allegations of chemical weapons use in opposition areas and in government areas, and reports are due soon.

Meanwhile, Turkish operations against Syrian Kurdish forces have compounded the suffering in northern and eastern Syria.

Located in northern Syria near the Turkish border, the Idlib province was declared a "de-escalation zone".

In May a year ago, Russia, Iran and Turkey signed an agreement to set up de-escalation centres, in order to reduce violence and airstrikes in some parts of Syria.

Erdogan blasted the US for its military presence in Manbij with fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Ankara sees as a terror group affiliated with the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has been fighting for autonomy in Turkey's southeast. Al-Qaida-linked militants said they downed the Russian Su-25 in Idlib on Saturday by a portable air defense missile.

She again rejected Moscow's proposed resolution to replace the JIM, saying it ignores the JIM's findings - "an investigation that Russian Federation supported until the investigators found the Assad regime to be responsible".

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