The United Nations says it is alarmed by “the extreme escalation in hostilities” in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta and called for “immediate” end to the bombardment of the rebel-held area that has left more than 100 people dead since Sunday.
“The recent escalation of violence compounds an already precarious humanitarian situation,” Panos Moumtzis, the UN’s regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“It’s imperative to end this senseless human suffering now. Such targeting of innocent civilians and infrastructure must stop now.”
At least 20 children are among those killed in the incessant air raids and artillery fired by Syrian government forces on the Damascus suburb home to some 400,000 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
Over 300 people have suffered wounds, the London-based monitoring group said on Tuesday.
The attack that began on Sunday reportedly marks an upcoming ground assault, which will soon be launched by the government, the SOHR said.
Eastern Ghouta is last remaining rebel-held area east of Damascus, and has been under siege by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces since 2013.
The UN and other rights organisations have continuously called for a permanent ceasefire and for the government to lift the “crippling” blockade.
As a result of the tight siege, aid convoys have not been able to deliver much of the desperately needed food and medical supplies, and overall access to the enclave remains “woefully inadequate”.
On February 14, a convoy’s deliveries reached only 2.6 percent of the estimated 272,500 people in need of humanitarian aid, according to Ali al-Za’tari, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Syria.
“The lack of access has led to severe food shortages and a sharp rise in food prices,” he said.
“Malnutrition rates have now reached unprecedented levels, with 11.9 percent of children under five years old acutely malnourished – the highest rate recorded in Syria since the beginning of the crisis.”
In an apparent bid to lessen fighting last year, Eastern Ghouta was classified as a “de-escalation” zone by the Syrian government and its allies – including Russia, Iran and Turkey. But violence has continued despite the truce agreement.
Syria’s other de-escalation zones include parts of the northeastern province of Idlib, areas in northern Homs province, and rebel-controlled territory in the south near the border with Jordan.
Despite the agreement, nearly 300 people have been killed in Eastern Ghouta and Idlib since the beginning of this month.
Now in its seventh year, the Syrian Civil War has killed hundreds of thousands of people, and has forced millions to flee the country.[Source: Al Jazeera]