Bombardment by the Syrian regime and its Russian ally killed 25 civilians, among them three children, in the embattled rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta on Wednesday, a monitor said.
“At least 25 civilians including three children were killed on Wednesday, most of them in regime air strikes and others in Russian raids on an area controlled by Faylaq Al-Rahman,” a rebel group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.
Syrian opposition activists say the town of Hamouria, in the southern pocket of eastern Ghouta, was the worst hit, with at least 10 killed there and a rescue center bombed and destroyed.
A doctor in Hamouria says he was overwhelmed and that for four hours, no vehicle was able to move the injured to a medical facility. The doctor spoke on condition of anonymity fearing for his own safety.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Ghouta Media Center say the towns of Arbeen, Jesreen and Saqba were also targeted. Recent government advances have cleaved eastern Ghouta into a northern and southern pocket. The bombing Wednesday focused on the southern pocket.
A senior UN adviser said on Wednesday Syria could see “tremendous battles” for two remaining rebel enclaves even once a government onslaught on the last insurgent pocket near Damascus is over.
International attention has focused on the battle for besieged eastern Ghouta outside the capital and for Afrin in the far north where Turkey sent in forces to combat Kurdish militia it sees as a threat to its security.
But they are not the last flashpoints as Syria’s war enters its eighth year, three years after the tide began turning in the government’s favor, said Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council and a senior UN adviser on Syria.
“Our fear is that after eastern Ghouta we may see tremendous battles now in and around Idlib (in the far northwest)and, in the south, Daraa,” he said.
Those would be just the latest in a string of increasingly bitter and cruel “end battles” following fighting for Homs, Aleppo, Raqqa and Deir Ezzor, Egeland said.
He said that in each battle, civilians were caught between warring sides who justified their ruthlessness by claiming to be fighting terrorism or dictatorship.
“It’s really not too late to have talks around Idlib, to have talks around Daraa, and to have talks around Afrin,” he said. “Idlib would be a tremendous concern because Idlib is in many ways a gigantic refugee camp.”
To stem one of the worst effects of the fighting — air strikes on medical facilities — Egeland said a new notification system for the coordinates of more than a dozen hospitals had gone into effect in the last few days.
“We have delivered coordinates on hospitals both in eastern Ghouta and in Idlib to the United States and to Russia, and Russia will not only guarantee that they will not attack, we’re asking them also to make sure that Syrian armed forces, the air force, is not targeting the hospitals,” Egeland said.
Russia is Syrian President Bashar Assad’s main military ally in the conflict.
“I was in touch with the Russians and the Americans yesterday on this,” Egeland said. “The armed groups have given it to the UN, and the UN has transmitted this to Russia and the US, and they will then transmit it to their allies.”