Activists: 98 dead in assault on rebel-held Damascus suburb

This photo released on Tuesday Feb. 20, 2018 provided by the Syrian anti-government activist group Ghouta Media Center, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian paramedics treat an injured man who was wounded by the shelling of the Syrian government forces, at a makeshift hospital, in Ghouta, suburb of Damascus, Syria. A Syrian monitoring group and paramedics say government shelling and airstrikes on rebel-held suburbs of the capital, Damascus, killed at least 98 people on Monday. (Ghouta Media Center via AP)

By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press
BEIRUT (AP) — Intense Syrian government shelling and airstrikes of rebel-held Damascus suburbs killed at least 98 people in what was the deadliest day in the area in three years, a monitoring group and paramedics said Tuesday.
A day after Monday’s government barrage, retaliatory shells rained down on the capital Damascus, killing at least one person on Tuesday.
The targeted suburbs — scattered across an area known as eastern Ghouta — have been subjected to weeks-long bombardment that has killed and wounded hundreds of people. Opposition activists say government forces have brought in more reinforcements in recent days, suggesting a major assault is imminent to recapture the area that is the last main rebel stronghold near Damascus.
Monday’s bombardment that killed nearly 100 people saw the use of warplanes, helicopter gunships, missiles as well as artillery, in a major escalation of violence near President Bashar Assad’s seat of power.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was the deadliest days in eastern Ghouta since 2015, adding that 20 children and 15 women were among those killed.
The opposition-affiliated Syrian Civil Defense, also known as White Helmets, said the shelling and airstrikes killed 98 and that some people are still under the rubble. It said the dead included one of the rescue group’s members, Firas Jomaa.
Both the Observatory and the White Helmets reported more airstrikes and shelling on Tuesday in eastern Ghouta as rebels pounded Damascus with mortar shells.
Rebels retaliated by hitting some Damascus neighborhoods with mortar shells, killing one person and wounding six people, according to the state news agency SANA. On Tuesday morning, Damascus residents reported shelling on areas in central Damascus.
“Shells are falling like rain. We are hiding in the corridor,” a Damascus resident told The Associated Press, asking that her name not be mentioned for her own safety. She spoke while hiding in the corridor of an office building.
Videos have surfaced from the eastern suburbs showing paramedics pulling out the injured from under the rubble while others are seen franticly digging through the debris in the dark, in search for survivors.
“The humanitarian situation of civilians in East Ghouta is spiraling out of control,” said Panos Moumtzis, the U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, in a statement late Monday.
“It’s imperative to end this senseless human suffering now. Such targeting of innocent civilians and infrastructure must stop now,” he said.
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Associated Press Writer Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.