Warplanes pounded the last rebel enclave near Syria’s capital for a fifth day running on Thursday as the UN Security Council considered demanding a 30-day ceasefire across the country to allow emergency aid deliveries and medical evacuations.
The UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, pleaded for a truce to halt one of the fiercest air assaults of the seven-year civil war and prevent a “massacre” in the besieged eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of Damascus.
At least 416 people have been killed in eastern Ghouta since Sunday night, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, with more than 2,100 wounded from the assault by Syria’s military and its allies.
Planes have struck residential areas in the enclave of 400,000 people and, said medical charities, hit more than a dozen hospitals, making it near impossible to treat the wounded.
Panos Moumtzis, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Syria, said households in eastern Ghouta were without food, water or electricity in winter cold and 80 percent of the population of the town of Harasta was living underground.
“There is a need for avoiding a massacre, because we will be judged by history,” Mistura said, urging the UN Security Council to act. The Council was meeting on Thursday to discussion the situation at the request of Russia.
President Bashar al-Assad’s main ally Russia, which wields a veto on the Security Council, said it could support a 30-day truce, but not one that included the Islamist militants it says the onslaught on eastern Ghouta is meant to target.
Aid workers and residents say Syrian army helicopters have been dropping “barrel bombs” – oil drums packed with explosives and shrapnel – on marketplaces and medical centres.
Residents and insurgents in eastern Ghouta say Russian planes are also involved. Syrians say they can identify Russian aircraft because they fly at higher altitude than Syrian planes.
Damascus and Moscow deny using barrel bombs or hitting civilians. They say rebels hold civilians as human shields.