Despite a de-escalation zone agreement brokered by Turkey, Russia and Iran, Bashar al Assad's regime forces continue to target the besieged Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta.

Two Syrian sisters run across the rubble to embrace after finding each other alive following an air strike on Hamouria, in the besieged rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus, on January 9, 2018.
Two Syrian sisters run across the rubble to embrace after finding each other alive following an air strike on Hamouria, in the besieged rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus, on January 9, 2018. (AFP)

A total of 40 people were killed over the past two days as Syrian regime forces intensified their attacks on the besieged Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, according to the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets.

In a statement, it said at least 161 civilians lost their lives over the last two weeks. 

Home to some 400,000 inhabitants, Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, has remained under a crippling siege by the Bashar al Assad regime since late 2012. 

Although the suburb falls within a network of de-escalation zones endorsed by Turkey, Russia and Iran, in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited, regime forces continue to attack there, violating the agreement.

Smoke rises after an air strike carried out by the regime warplanes in the de-escalation zone of Arbin town in the besieged Eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria on January 10, 2018.
Smoke rises after an air strike carried out by the regime warplanes in the de-escalation zone of Arbin town in the besieged Eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria on January 10, 2018. (AA)

UN Human Rights chief Zeid Raad Al Hussein condemned the upsurge in civilian casualties in the suburb, stressing that all parties are obliged under international law to distinguish between lawful military targets and civilians.

"The suffering of the people of Syria knows no end," Hussein said in a statement.

He said at least 85 civilians, including 21 women and 30 children, have been killed and at least 183 wounded in Eastern Ghouta since December 31.

A wounded baby gets treatment at a Sahra hospital after an air strike carried out by the warplanes of Assad Regime in the de-escalation zone of Arbin town in the besieged Eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria on January 10, 2018.
A wounded baby gets treatment at a Sahra hospital after an air strike carried out by the warplanes of Assad Regime in the de-escalation zone of Arbin town in the besieged Eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria on January 10, 2018. (AA)

Key air base in Idlib

Hussein also expressed "grave concern" over the situation in Idlib, which is home to more than 2.6 million Syrians, including more than 1.1 million who fled fighting elsewhere in the country.

Meanwhile, Syrian regime forces on Wednesday reached a sprawling air base controlled by rebels since 2015, the target of a wide-ranging offensive in the northwestern Idlib province.

Recapturing the Abu Adduhur air base has been one of the main goals of the regime offensive launched in late October.

The operations also aim to secure the road linking the capital, Damascus, with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria's largest.

The regime-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said troops were engaged in fierce fighting with Al Qaeda-linked militants and other insurgents just outside Abu Adduhur.

Idlib province is the largest rebel-held area in Syria and is situated on the border with Turkey.

One of the main group in the city is Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS), which three guarantor states (Turkey, Russia and Iran) designate as a terrorist group. 

HTS is being led by members of former Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, known as Al Nusra Front.

The regime offensive in the region has displaced tens of thousands of people, who have fled toward areas close to the Turkish border.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Tuesday said that Syrian regime forces were targeting the moderate opposition “on the pretext of fighting Al Nusra terror group.”

More than 100 civilians were killed and over 200 others injured in attacks in de-escalation zones in Idlib in the past three weeks.

Syria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating conflict that began in 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected ferocity. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies