Deadly airstrikes continue near Damascus as death toll surpasses 400
US accuses Syrian president of planning 'to bomb or starve' opponents in besieged region
Syrian government warplanes continued their relentless bombardment of the rebel-controlled eastern suburbs of Damascus for a sixth day Friday, killing nine people, opposition activists and a war monitor reported.
The death toll over the past week climbed to more than 400.
The number of casualties has overwhelmed rescuers and doctors at hospitals, many of which have also been bombed. World leaders a day earlier called for an urgent ceasefire in Syria to allow relief agencies to deliver aid and evacuate the critically sick and wounded from besieged areas to receive medical care.
The UN envoy for Syria has pleaded for a truce to halt one of the worst air assaults of the seven-year war and prevent a "massacre." Staffan de Mistura renewed his call on Friday to stop both the "horrific" bombing of besieged eastern Ghouta and indiscriminate mortar shelling on Damascus.
A spokesperson for the Syrian Civil Defence search-and-rescue group said eastern Ghouta was being targeted for "extermination."
"This is a war against civilians," said Siraj Mahmoud. "The civil defence is being targeted as they rescue women and children, evacuate civilians from targeted areas and put out fires."
But Russia's UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, who called Thursday's meeting, put forward last-minute amendments, saying the proposed resolution was "simply unrealistic." A new vote was likely Friday.
The United States accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of planning "to bomb or starve" opponents in besieged eastern Ghouta into submission — just as it did in Aleppo.
Kelley Currie, U.S. ambassador for economic and social affairs, told the UN Security Council that the Syrian leader is counting on Russia, a key ally and veto-wielding member of the council, to make sure it "is unable to stop their suffering."
The opposition's Syrian Civil Defence rescue group on Friday reported new airstrikes in Douma, Arbeen and other towns that make up the eastern suburbs of Damascus known as eastern Ghouta.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least five people were killed in raids on Hammouriyeh, Zamalka, Douma and al-Marj. The Britain-based group monitors the Syria war through a network of activists on the ground.
Separately, Human Rights Watch on Friday criticized the way Turkey is conducting its offensive in northern Syria, saying it has failed to take necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties. The New York-based group cites three attacks in the Afrin region in late January that it says killed a total of 26 civilians, including 17 children. In a statement, it called on Turkey to thoroughly investigate these strikes and make the findings public.
Turkey launched an air and ground offensive in the Kurdish-controlled region on Jan. 20, saying it aims to clear Afrin of Syrian Kurdish militia known as the YPG that Turkey considers to be an offshoot of its own outlawed Kurdish rebels fighting within Turkey.
According to several estimates, around 120 civilians have been killed in the offensive. Turkey denies hitting civilians.
The YPG on Friday accused Turkey of bombing a convoy of civilians that was crossing into Afrin to protest Turkey's offensive, resulting in multiple casualties who were moved to hospitals in Afrin for treatment.
Syrian state TV had on Thursday night said a convoy carrying aid and heading toward Afrin has been targeted by Turkish artillery, inflicting casualties.
State TV gave no further details about Thursday's incident, which came two days after pro-government fighters began entering the predominantly Kurdish town to shore up the Kurdish forces, after reaching an agreement with the YPG. Turkey has threatened to bomb the forces if they work together with the Kurds.