UN official 'horrified' as Syrian air strikes kill scores of people

Injured youth waiting to receive treatment at a makeshift clinic in the rebel-held area of Douma. The air strikes have claimed at least 96 lives and wounded another 240 people.
Injured youth waiting to receive treatment at a makeshift clinic in the rebel-held area of Douma. The air strikes have claimed at least 96 lives and wounded another 240 people.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

DAMASCUS • The death toll in Syrian government air strikes on a rebel-held town outside Damascus neared 100 yesterday, as the United Nations' humanitarian chief expressed horror and appealed for civilians to be protected.

Sunday's series of raids on the town of Douma, in the rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta, was one of the bloodiest regime attacks in Syria's four-year war. They came almost two years after devastating chemical weapons attacks on the same region that much of the international community blamed on the Syrian government.

At least 96 people were killed in the 10 air strikes on a marketplace, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor. Another 240 people were wounded and the death toll continues to climb as some of those in a serious condition succumb to their injuries.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said that government aircraft carried out another four air strikes on Douma yesterday morning, but he had no immediate details on casualties.

Dozens of bodies lined up on the bloodied floors of one of Douma's makeshift clinics, as medics struggled to treat those wounded.

Yesterday, residents were burying victims of the previous day's attack, placing the bodies on top of others killed in earlier massacres.

Eastern Ghouta, a rebel bastion regularly targeted by government air strikes, has been under a suffocating siege for nearly two years.

Amnesty International last week accused the government of committing war crimes there, saying its heavy aerial bombardment of the area was compounding the misery created by the blockade.

Yesterday, UN's humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien, on his first trip to Syria since taking the post in May, fiercely condemned attacks on civilians.

At a news conference in Damascus, he said he was "horrified by the total disrespect for civilian life in this conflict".

At least 240,000 have been killed in Syria's war, which started in 2011 with protests against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Meanwhile, the United States has said it would withdraw two Patriot missile-defence batteries from southern Turkey in October, a sign that the Pentagon believes the risk of Syrian army missile attacks has eased since the Patriots were deployed in 2013.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2015, with the headline 'UN official 'horrified' as Syrian air strikes kill scores of people'. Print Edition | Subscribe