Syrian regime warplanes pummeled the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta enclave for the fifth consecutive day Friday, killing more than 200 civilians this week alone.
The fresh wave of bombings by Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s regime, with support from Russia, ignores repeated calls from the UN to halt fighting, and comes just days after the U.S. condemned the regime for its repeated use of chemical weapons.
Thursday was the deadliest day in the regime’s current offensive, with airstrikes killing 73 people including 20 children, according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group.
"These are the worst four days that Eastern Ghouta has ever gone through," Hamza, a doctor in Arbin, told AFP news agency.
Home to roughly 400,000 Syrians, Eastern Ghouta was labeled a “de-escalation zone” over a year ago in a deal brokered by Iran, Russia and Turkey. But the escalating violence over the past six weeks suggests the agreement was little more than ink on paper.
Humanitarian organizations are barely able to access Eastern Ghouta, which has been under siege since 2013. The UN has not accessed the area since November and the price of food and medicine has inflated up to 800 percent, according to Save the Children.
"Children and teachers are terrified that at any moment they could be hit. The siege means there is nowhere for them to escape," Sonia Khush, the director of Save the Children's Syria response said in a statement."There must be an immediate halt to the fighting and an end to the siege."
The clashes in Eastern Ghouta aren’t the only development in the war-torn country that’s garnered attention this week.
In a rare occurrence, U.S.-backed coalition forces conducted strikes against the Syrian regime Wednesday, after Assad's forces conducted “an unprovoked” attack against a US-controlled base. More than 100 of Assad's soldiers were killed in the U.S. response.
The altercation drew concern from Capitol Hill, where some lawmakers are on high alert for mission creep. U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, a member of the Senate foreign relations committee, said he was “gravely concerned” about the Trump administration “stumbling” deeper into the Syrian conflict. But Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis quickly shot down those fears Thursday, saying it was simply an instance of “self-defense,” according to Reuters.
This week has once again returned the world’s attention to Assad's brutal campaign and the country's spiraling seven year war, which has repeatedly raised the specter of war crimes.
“We are very worried. The air strikes need to end,” French Defense Minister Florence Parly said on France Inter radio. “Civilians are the targets, in Idlib and in the east of Damascus. This fighting is absolutely unacceptable.”
State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert joined in the condemnation, saying Thursday that the U.S. was “appalled” by the attacks on Syrian civilians.
“Russia must use its influence with Damascus to ensure the Syrian regime immediately allows the UN to provide vital assistance to this extremely vulnerable population,” she said.
The United Nations demanded an immediate one-month ceasefire on Tuesday, warning of “dire consequences” in Syria.
Cover image: A woman gestures as she walks on rubble of damaged buildings after an airstrike in the besieged town of Douma in eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria, February 7, 2018. REUTERS/ Bassam Khabieh