The death toll from a Syrian government air strike on a market in Douma northeast of Damascus neared 100, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday, a day after one of the single bloodiest attacks of the four-year war.
A Syrian military source said the air force launched strikes on Sunday on the rebel-held town of Douma and the nearby area of Harasta against an insurgent group, Islam Army, following recent attacks on government-held Damascus.
The Observatory reported that 96 people were killed in the air strike on the market, which is about 10 miles (16 km) from the centre of Damascus. Separately, rescue workers said 95 bodies had been identified and that a further nine victims had yet to be named.
An estimated quarter of a million people have been killed in the Syrian civil war that has splintered the country, driven 10 million people from their homes, and drawn in regional states that support the warring sides.
The Syrian political opposition group, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, said the attack on Douma aimed to inflict as many civilian casualties as possible.
In a statement, the Turkey-based coalition said “the feeble position of the Security Council and the international community is a factor helping in the escalation of massacres against Syrian civilians”.
The war in and around Damascus – President Bashar al-Assad’s seat of power – has escalated in recent days.
Islam Army, one of the most powerful rebel groups in the eastern Damascus region, launched an attack on government positions in Harasta on Saturday.
Last Wednesday, a barrage of insurgent rockets killed 13 people in Damascus, while government air strikes in the nearby Eastern Ghouta region killed 31 people, the Observatory reported.
The Syrian military source said Sunday’s air strikes were a response to the insurgent attacks on Damascus. “If there is any escalation towards Damascus there will be a very strong and decisive response,” the source said.
Denying targeting of civilians, the source said rebel groups had sought to position their headquarters in residential areas.
A senior UN official, in a statement issued from Damascus, said attacks on civilians were “unlawful, unacceptable and must stop”.
“I am particularly appalled about reports of yesterday’s air strikes, causing scores of civilian deaths and hundreds injured, right in the centre of Douma, a besieged part of Damascus,” United Nations Humanitarian Chief and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien said.
O’Brien was wrapping up a three-day visit.