Death toll rises as Syrian shelling of Damascus suburb continues

Update 11.25am: Ten people have been killed in Syria by government air strikes and shelling on a town in the suburbs of Damascus, the Syrian Civil Defence rescue organisation said.

The group, also known as the White Helmets, said government forces targeted Kafr Batna early on Wednesday with air strikes, artillery fire, and barrel bombs - crude, explosives-filled oil drums dropped from helicopters at high altitudes.

The latest deaths followed intense shelling that killed nearly 130 people in two days earlier this week, marking the deadliest bombardment of the region in three years.

The locally-run Ghouta Media Centre reported strikes on Kafr Batna and other towns in the rebel-held eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus.

Activists said there has been no let-up to the waves of shelling on eastern Ghouta since government and Russian forces stepped up their assault late on Sunday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 250 civilians have been killed.

Earlier: UN condemns Syrian attacks after at least 250 die

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is expressing serious concern about the humanitarian situation in a rebel-held area of Syria.

At least 250 people were killed by pro-government air strikes on Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.

More than 50 children are among the dead, according to the UN, with the organisation saying the situation is "spiralling out of control".

The intense Syrian government shelling and air strikes on rebel-held Damascus suburbs mark the deadliest bombardment of the region in three years.

Retaliatory shells rained down on Damascus, killing at least eight people and causing panic among residents of the Syrian capital, the seat of President Bashar Assad's power.

The violence in the capital and nearby areas came as scores of pro-government gunmen began entering the northern Kurdish enclave of Afrin - where Turkish forces are fighting Syrian Kurdish troops (the YPG) in a separate offensive.

Turkish troops shelled the areas shortly after the fighters entered the area, forcing journalists to flee. Turkish state media reported the pro-government forces then fell back to six miles from Afrin city.

Suburbs targeted by the Syrian government - scattered across an area known as eastern Ghouta - have been subjected to a weeks-long bombardment that has killed and wounded hundreds of people.

Opposition activists said government forces have brought in more reinforcements in recent days, suggesting a major assault is imminent to recapture the last main rebel stronghold near Damascus.

The area is home to some 400,000 people as well as thousands of insurgents belonging to different factions. The most powerful is the ultraconservative Army of Islam and Failaq al-Rahman, with a small presence of al-Qaida-linked fighters.

Videos from the eastern suburbs showed paramedics pulling out the injured from under the rubble while others are seen frantically digging through the debris in the dark, in search of survivors.

The bombardment that killed nearly 100 people on Monday saw the use of warplanes, helicopter gunships and missiles as well as artillery in a major escalation of violence near Mr Assad's seat of power.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was the deadliest days in eastern Ghouta since 2015, adding that 20 children and 15 women were among those killed.

The opposition-affiliated Syrian Civil Defence, also known as White Helmets, said the shelling and airstrikes killed 98 and that some people are still under the rubble. It said the dead included one of the rescue group's members, Firas Jomaa.

Both the Observatory and the White Helmets reported more air strikes and shelling on Tuesday in eastern Ghouta as rebels pounded Damascus with mortar shells. The White Helmets reported 15 deaths on Tuesday while the Observatory said 23 people were killed.

The Observatory said the "crazy shelling" appears to be paving the way for a wide ground offensive on eastern Ghouta. If captured by government forces it would be another major victory for Mr Assad since the conflict began seven years ago.

Rebels retaliated by hitting some Damascus neighbourhoods with mortar shells, killing eight, including three children, and wounding 15 people, according to the state news agency SANA. On Tuesday morning, Damascus residents reported shelling of areas in the centre.

The UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, decried a recent upsurge in violence, expressing concerns that eastern Ghouta could fall victim to widespread bloodshed like that in northern Aleppo more than a year ago.

The UN children's agency, Unicef, issued a one-page statement of protest against the killings and carried a headline, saying: "Do those inflicting the suffering still have words to justify their barbaric acts?"

The International Committee of the Red Cross also issued a statement saying that "this cannot go on". It added that there had been "distressing reports" of dozens injured and killed every day in eastern Ghouta, with "families trapped, with no safe place to hide from shelling. Dozens of mortars in Damascus cause civilian casualties and spread fear. We cannot let history repeat itself."

Most Read in World