A new wave of bombs struck Syria‘s eastern Ghouta district unabated on Friday, witnesses said, ahead of a UN Security Council vote to demand a 30-day ceasefire to end one of the deadliest bombing campaigns of the war.
For a sixth straight day, warplanes flown by government forces and their allies have pounded the densely populated enclave east of the capital, the last rebel bastion near Damascus.
The civilian casualties and devastation there are among the worst in Syria since the government captured rebel-held parts of Aleppo in intense fighting in 2016.
At least 436 people have been killed and many hundreds injured, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group says. The dead include at least 99 children.
Eyes were on Moscow, and whether President Bashar al-Assad’s veto-wielding ally would support the UN Security Council’s draft ceasefire resolution, block it, or seek to water it down in a way that would let bombing go on.
Previous ceasefires have a poor record of ending fighting on the ground in Syria, and Moscow has a history of blocking Security Council measures that would harm Assad’s interests.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was ready to vote for a draft ceasefire resolution, but accused the United States and allies of refusing to amend it to include guarantees that militants would honour it, Interfax news agency reported.
Syria‘s government, with its allies Russia, Iran and Shi’ite militias, has often used the tactic of pushing rebels to surrender their strongholds after long sieges and military offensives.
Insurgents in eastern Ghouta have vowed not to accept such a fate, ruling out an evacuation of fighters, their families and other civilians of the kind that ended rebellion in Aleppo and Homs after heavy bombardment in earlier years.
“We refuse categorically any initiative that includes getting the residents out of their homes and moving them elsewhere,” Ghouta rebel factions wrote in a letter to the Security Council on Friday.
Eastern Ghouta has 400,000 people spread over a larger area than other enclaves the government has recaptured. Late on Thursday, government aircraft dropped leaflets urging civilians to depart and hand themselves over to the Syrian army, marking corridors through which they could leave safely.
Medical charities say jets have hit more than a dozen hospitals, making it near impossible to treat the wounded.
The Britain-based Observatory said government warplanes and artillery hit Douma, Zamalka, and other towns across the enclave in the early hours on Friday.
There was no immediate comment from the Syrian military.
A witness in Douma who asked not to be identified said by telephone that the early morning bombing was the most intense so far. Another resident, in the town of Hamouriyeh, said the assault had continued “like the other days”.
“Whenever the bombing stops for some moments, the civil defence vehicles go out to the targeted places. They work to remove the debris form the road,” said Bilal Abu Salah.
The Civil Defence there said its rescuers rushed to help the wounded after strikes on Hamouriyeh and Saqba. The emergency service, which operates in rebel territory, says it has pulled hundreds of people from under the rubble in recent days.
Damascus and Moscow say they only target militants. They have said their main aim is to stop rebel shelling of the capital, and have accused insurgents in the Ghouta of holding residents as human shields.
Syrian state news agency Sana said on Friday that factions in the besieged suburbs fired a rocket and mortars at districts of Damascus, killing one person and injuring 15 others.
The army was pounding militant targets in response, it said.
Hamza Birqdar, the military spokesman for the Jaish al-Islam rebel faction, said it had thwarted nine attacks by pro-government militias trying to storm a front in the southeast of the Ghouta.
The towns and farms of the eastern Ghouta have been under government siege since 2013, with shortages of food, water and electricity that worsened last year.
The UN envoy for Syria has pleaded for a truce to prevent a “massacre”. Staffan de Mistura renewed his call on Friday to stop both the “horrific heavy bombardment” of besieged eastern Ghouta and indiscriminate mortar shelling on Damascus.
The resolution to be considered by the UN Security Council was drafted by Kuwait and Sweden, demanding “a cessation of hostilities throughout Syria for all military operations” for 30 days to allow aid deliveries and medical evacuations.
The resolution does not cover the groups Islamic State, al Qaeda and the Nusra Front, which Moscow and Damascus say they have targeted in eastern Ghouta.