More than 127 civilians, including 39 children, were killed and hundreds wounded in Syria’s Eeastern Ghouta on a day of “hysterical” violence on Monday.
This, observers say, is the largest single-day death toll in the rebel-held area in nearly four years.
Since Sunday, President Bashar al-Assad regime has used air strikes, rocket artillery fire and barrel bombs to batter the rebel-held enclave, which is home to 400,000 civilians, in apparent preparation for a ground assault.
Activists said at least 10 towns and villages across eastern Ghouta came under renewed, indiscriminate bombardment, including seven hospitals.
The air strikes continued on Tuesday, killed another 50 civilians, including 13 children, bringing the civilian death toll to nearly 200.
The UN has warned that the situation is “spiralling out of control” and called for a ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered and hundreds of critically sick and wounded patients to be evacuated.
“All these humanitarian and rights organisations, all that is nonsense. So is terrorism. What is a greater terrorism than killing civilians with all sorts of weapons? Is this a war? It’s not a war. It’s called a massacre. We are standing before the massacre of the 21st century,” said a doctor in eastern Ghouta.
Unicef on Tuesday expressed “outrage” over the killings of children in Syria by issuing a blank statement, adding in a footnote that “no words will do (them) justice”.
“No words will do justice to the children killed, their mothers, their fathers and their loved ones,” said Geert Cappelaere, Unicef regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Those words were followed by a blank page.
Unicef voiced its anger in a postscript at the end of the news release, entitled “The War ON Children in Syria. Reports of mass casualties among children in Eastern Ghouta and Damascus.”
“Unicef is issuing this blank statement,” it said. “We no longer have the words to describe children’s suffering and our outrage. Do those inflicting the suffering still have words to justify their barbaric acts?”
Held by rebels since 2012, Eastern Ghouta is the last opposition pocket around Damascus and President Assad is keen to retake it.
Eastern Ghouta is mostly held by two hardline rebel groups — Jaish al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman — though jihadists have a smaller foothold.
The factions often fire rockets and mortar rounds into residential neighbourhoods of east Damascus.