BEIRUT (AP) - Russian and Syrian government forces launched a new wave of airstrikes and shelling on Tuesday, plunging the besieged area just outside of Syria’s capital of Damascus into a spiral of violence and despair.
At least 55 civilians were killed in what activists described as one of the deadliest days in the eastern Ghouta region in over a month. Ten towns, home to nearly 400,000 people trapped by the violence and a tightening siege, were bombed or shelled.
The United Nations called for an immediate, monthlong cease-fire in order to deliver critical humanitarian aid and medical care to civilians across the country.
Streets in the stricken area were covered in all-enveloping dust as one strike after another hit the same neighborhoods.
Images of blood-soaked children and adults competed with video of rescuers carrying white body bags or pulling survivors from the debris of destroyed homes. Sirens and wailing mixed with the relentless sound of airstrikes as residents of eastern Ghouta were unable to keep up with the onslaught.
One video showed a survivor with torn clothes and a bloody face running from a bombed building toward an ambulance. “Rescue me!” he yelled.
A visibly shaken man named Saeed emerged from a cloud of dust holding his infant son, Ibrahim, who had a streak of blood on his head. Saeed had managed to pull the 3-month-old child out of the wreckage of their home after an airstrike, according to Syrian Civil Defense workers, known as the White Helmets.
Nearly 200 people were wounded, and rescuers said many of those probably will not survive because of lack of medical supplies.
“Minute after minute, the number of casualties rises,” a rescuer from the White Helmets said in a video from eastern Ghouta posted on the group’s Facebook page. “No area at all in Ghouta is safe. ... We don’t know what to say.”
It was the second day of an intensified assault on the region. On Monday, at least 28 people were killed, while on Sunday, a suspected chlorine attack left a dozen people suffering from breathing difficulties.
The region has been under intense attack since the end of December as the government of President Bashar Assad struggles to bring it under control.
The White Helmets said they recorded 55 deaths on Tuesday, while many more were trapped under destroyed buildings. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put Tuesday’s death toll at 70 in what it said was the highest it had recorded since December. The monitoring group said the campaign against Ghouta has killed at least 350 civilians, including more than 80 children.