New Deadly Strikes Hit Damascus Suburb

Syrian activists reported deadly pro-government airstrikes Wednesday in the besieged Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta, which this week has seen its deadliest string of daily violence in years.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the strikes have killed at least 250 people since late Sunday. The last time so many people were killed in such a short amount of time happened in a 2013 chemical attack on the area.

The surge in violence comes as Syrian forces work to retake control from opposition fighters after laying siege to eastern Ghouta for more than four years.

The developments also follow massive progress in the multiple separate efforts to dislodge Islamic State militants from much of the territory they once held in Syria.

Middle East Institute scholar Zubair Iqbal told VOA that with Islamic State less of a focus, the different countries and groups involved in the Syrian conflict are turning to other goals, which in some cases means fighting each other.

"The difference basically is that at this stage the government is much more powerful and much more dominant than it was in the past five years," Iqbal said. "So basically what the government is trying to do is put an end to whatever remaining rebels are there, and that's the reason why these brutal attacks have taken place in east Ghouta and elsewhere."

The other major site of confrontation is in the Afrin region, where Turkish troops have mounted a month-long offensive.

On Tuesday, pro-government troops were on their way to that area when Turkish forces forced them to retreat.

Syria's state media televised a convoy of about 20 machine gun-armed vehicles entering Afrin from the village of Nubul.

The deployment came one day after Turkey warned the Syrian government not to enter the area, saying it would retaliate if the troops tried to protect Kurdish fighters.

Turkey launched its offensive on Jan. 20 to rid the area of Kurdish forces. Turkey considers Kurdish fighters as terrorists because of their association with outlawed Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey.

In Washington, the State Department said U.S. knowledge of what's going on in Afrin is "somewhat limited" because American forces are not there.

But the United States joined the international community to voice deep concerns about the increasing violence in eastern Ghouta.

"The escalation has exacerbated the already grave human suffering," said spokesperson Heather Nauert on Tuesday. "It also increases the number of individuals who require urgent medical evacuation, which already stood at approximately 1,000."

The U.S. said Russia should be held accountable for its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.

"Russia bears a unique responsibility for the suffering and the plight of the Syrian people," Nauert said.

Panos Moumtzis, the United Nations' regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syrian crisis, said in a statement late Monday the humanitarian situation is "spiraling out of control."

Source: voice of America