The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime and Russian air strikes killed 64 people in eastern Ghouta's Kafr Batna district and another 12 in the Saqba district. The Syrian Civil Defense group reported 61 fatalities in Kafr Batna.

People walk with their belongings as they flee the rebel-held town of Hammouriyeh, in the village of Beit Sawa, eastern Ghouta, Syria March 15, 2018.
People walk with their belongings as they flee the rebel-held town of Hammouriyeh, in the village of Beit Sawa, eastern Ghouta, Syria March 15, 2018. (Reuters)

Air strikes in Syria killed more than 100 people on Friday as civilians fled besieged areas for the second straight day. 

Syrian regime forces stepped up their offensive in the rebel-held eastern suburbs of the capital, Damascus, capturing a major town and closing in on another under the cover of Russia's air power.

The majority of the deaths occurred in eastern suburbs of Damascus, known as eastern Ghouta, where regime forces have been on a crushing offensive for three weeks capturing 70 percent of the once besieged rebel-held area. The weeks-long violence left more than 1,300 civilians dead, 5,000 wounded and forced thousands to flee to regime-controlled areas.

Friday's staggering death toll came a day after Syria passed the seven-year mark in its relentless civil war that has killed some 450,000 people and displaced half the country's population.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime and Russian forces have been bombing rebel-towns areas outside Damascus throughout Friday, killing 64 people in Kafr Batna and another 12 in Saqba. The Syrian Civil Defense search-and-rescue group reported 61 fatalities in Kafr Batna.

Later Friday, regime forces captured the town of Jisreen, closing in on Saqba from the east, north and south, forcing opposition fighters to retreat west. The Syrian regime is determined to seize Kafr Batna, Saqba and the rest of the besieged eastern Ghouta region from rebels.

"If the world does not move, Ghouta will be exterminated," said Siraj Mahmoud, a Civil Defense member in eastern Ghouta.

The attack on Kafr Batna was with cluster bombs, napalm-like incendiary weapons, and conventional explosives, the Observatory said.

TRT World spoke to Frank Ucciardo in New York on the UN's efforts to quell the escalating violence in eastern Ghouta.

Catastrophic situation

Photos and videos released from the area showed charred bodies covered with sheets lined near what appeared to be shops.

The assault was part of an indiscriminate campaign by regime leader Bashar al Assad's forces to retake the town and the rest of the enclave from the rebels.

A medical charity supporting hospitals in the Ghouta region, the Syrian American Medical Society, said doctors in Kafr Batna were treating patients for severe burn wounds. The charity said earlier in the day that it recorded 40 casualties on Friday.

Oways al Shami, a spokesman for Syrian Civil Defense, said the air strike targeted a market and a nearby residential area where scores of people have gathered. He said people were in the market to buy bread and vegetables at the time of the strike.

Dr. Zouhair Kahaleh, in the nearby town of Arbeen, said "the medical situation is catastrophic. We can't stay in this situation for long." He said the streets are closed, and "we can't treat some of the cases here. It's a major challenge to reach the wounded because of the intensity of the air strikes."

Kahaleh said some operations have had to be postponed indefinitely because there are no specialised doctors in other area, which cannot currently be accessed.

Exhausted and shell-shocked civilians streamed out of eastern Ghouta for the second consecutive day heading to buses arranged by the regime to transport them to a centre for identification and relief.

The UN has warned of a malnutrition crisis in eastern Ghouta, which human rights groups have blamed on the regime's strangling blockade.


Thursday saw the largest single-day exodus of civilians in Syria's civil war. The regime offensive has pushed further into eastern Ghouta, chipping away at one of the largest and most significant opposition bastions since the early days of the rebellion — communities where some 400,000 people are estimated to be holed up.

Speaking in Kazakhstan on Friday alongside the foreign ministers of Iran and Turkey, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that more than 12,000 people left Syria's rebel-held eastern Ghouta on Thursday.

The foreign ministers were meeting over the situation in Syria and the three agreed that there can be no military solution to the conflict, according to the regime's news agency SANA.

Interfax news agency has reported that the Russian Defence Ministry announced an additional 2,000 people had left eastern Ghouta on Friday.

Lavrov added the Russian military and the Syrian regime would extend the "cease-fire" in Damascus' rebel-held suburbs for as long as it takes to allow all civilians to leave the area.   

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that the situation there was heading towards disaster and clashes must end, reiterating the need for a ceasefire in the region.

Since mid-February, Syrian regime forces have targeted Damascus' sprawling suburbs with shells, air strikes and, at times, even toxic gas, according to opposition medics.

Last weekend, regime forces divided the enclave into three sectors, isolating the major urban centers and enabling a swift advance. On Thursday, men, women and children emerged from Hamouria and nearby opposition towns, carrying mats and other possessions that sometimes poked out of suitcases.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies