Russian, US air strikes in Syria caused mass civilian deaths, United Nations says

MIDEAST-CRISIS  SYRIA

A man pushes a cart past damaged buildings in Douma on Monday

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said 80 civilians were killed on Monday.

After fresh air and rocket strikes by Syrian government forces killed another 46, State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert blamed Russian Federation for not reeling in the regime of its ally President Bashar al-Assad.

Almost two weeks ago, after days of fitful negotiations, the UN Security Council passed a resolution that urged parties to Syria's conflict to allow humanitarian aid and medicine to reach almost half a million desperate civilians trapped in Eastern Ghouta, a Damascus suburb under siege by Syrian government forces.

There were media reports of Syrian government forces removing lifesaving medicine and medical supplies, including insulin, before allowing the aid vehicles into Eastern Ghouta.

While the region is technically covered by a 2017 de-escalation deal, the government says it is targeting al-Qaeda-linked factions in the area not covered by the agreement.

Rami Abdurrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, says there has been no letup to the government's assault on the rebel-held suburbs.

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Despite the ceasefire resolution, Moscow and Damascus have not halted the campaign to retake eastern Ghouta, arguing that the fighters they are striking are members of banned terrorist groups unprotected by the truce.

Russian Federation has called for five-hour daily ceasefires each day in eastern Ghouta since early last week, but the Syrian government offensive to recapture the enclave has continued.

The White House said Russian military aircraft took off from Humaymim Airfield in Syria and carried out at least 20 daily bombing missions in Damascus and eastern Ghouta between 24-28 February.

The ministry highlighted that the only areas where the provisions of Resolution 2401 are being largely neglected are those controlled by the US: The people of Raqqa and the Rukban refugee camp are still being denied humanitarian aid despite the US-occupied At-Tanf being located in close proximity to the areas, the report outlined.

The United Nations estimates 400,000 people are trapped under a government siege in the area.

Air strikes continued Tuesday.

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Government troops have advanced rapidly across farmland in Eastern Ghouta in the past week and have wrested control of more than 40 percent of the territory.

The investigators also spoke of allegations of chemical weapons use in the enclave, saying they had "reasonable grounds to believe that government forces used chemical weapons" in an attack on Harasta on November 18.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry says the country plans to establish camps in nine locations in northern Syria to house people displaced by fighting amid Ankara's offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters.

An UNHCR aid convoy drives through the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syria March 5, 2018. "The people sit with multiple families, with thousands of families in basement shelters", he said.

Officials at the United Nations have renewed their desire for a 30 day cease fire in an effort to evacuate civilians and give aid to those who stay.

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