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Truce plea in Syria as civilian casualties soar

Damascus, Monday

The UN has renewed its appeal for an immediate truce in the besieged Syrian rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area, amid reports of more deaths in air strikes.

The UN Security Council demanded on Saturday that all parties cease fighting for 30 days “without delay”. But the Syrian government’s ally Russia said the truce would begin only once they had agreed how to implement it.

It came as activists reported that nine civilians were killed in a government air strike on the town of Douma. At least 541 people have been killed by government air and artillery strikes since hostilities escalated eight days ago, according to a medical charity.

The Eastern Ghouta is the last major rebel-held area near the capital, Damascus, and has been besieged since 2013 by the Syrian military with support from its Russian and Iranian allies. Although there has been some reduction in violence since Saturday, air strikes are continuing to target the enclave.

Reports on Monday morning spoke of renewed bombardments in areas including Douma, the main town in the Eastern Ghouta, and Harasta. The Syria Civil Defence, whose rescue workers are known as the White Helmets, said nine civilians were killed in a strike on one building in Douma.

Some reports said those killed were from the same family. There were no reports of a major ground offensive by the Syrian military. The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM), a charity that operates hospitals in the Eastern Ghouta, said at least 20 civilians were killed in government air and artillery attacks on Sunday.

Casualties were also reported on both sides after government forces clashed with rebels in southern areas of the enclave. Some 393,000 civilians are trapped in the area, according to the UN. — BBC

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