Middle East

Syria government bombardment kills 16 civilians near Damascus: Monitor

Wounded Syrian treated at hospital after air strike in Eastern Ghouta region on Saturday (AFP)

A Syrian government bombardment killed 16 civilians on Saturday across the besieged opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta, a monitor group said.

Eastern Ghouta has been under government siege since 2013 and its estimated 400,000 inhabitants are suffering severe shortages of food and medicine.

On Saturday, a barrage of Syrian artillery fire hit a market in the main Eastern Ghouta town of Douma, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"Nine people were killed, including a woman," the British-based war monitor said.

White Helmets appeal to international community for action, as hundreds killed in East Ghouta https://t.co/80koFeHRzB

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Another six civilians were killed in artillery fire on the towns of Hammuriyeh, Arbeen and al-Marj. Syrian air strikes killed a child in the town of Zamalka.

In the first 14 days of the year, more than 30 children were killed in Eastern Ghouta, a report by UNICEF found.

"It is shocking that only in the first 14 days of the year more than 30 children have been killed in escalating violence in East Ghouta, where an estimated 200,000 children have been trapped under siege since 2013," read a statement by UNICEF Representative in Syria, Fran Equiza.

"UNICEF received information from inside East Ghouta that people are taking shelter underground in fear for their lives. One particular heavy attack on residential buildings was so strong it reportedly injured 80 civilians including children and women. Medical personnel struggled to pull survivors out of the rubble."

Urgent treatment needed

The United Nations has said about 500 people are in critical condition inside Eastern Ghouta and need to be evacuated for urgent medical treatment.

Twenty-nine patients, mainly children, were allowed out in December to get treatment under a deal struck between the government and rebels, but several have already returned.

Eastern Ghouta was one of four "de-escalation zones" agreed under a deal agreed last year between rebel backer Turkey and government allies Iran and Russia.

But the opposition stronghold remains the target of intense air strikes and a crippling government siege.

Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011 with protests against the government but has since evolved into a ferocious civil war.

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