Syrian government shelling kills 23 civilians ahead of UN talks
In this Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012 photo, a Syrian army jet is seen in Syria. (AP / Manu Brabo)
BEIRUT -- Government airstrikes and shelling outside the Syrian capital killed at least 23 civilians, activists reported Sunday, as fighting in the area showed no signs of letting up ahead of the resumption of UN peace talks in Geneva.
The government's jets and artillery launched a wave of attacks on residential areas in the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, which reported that 25 people had been killed.
The locally-run Ghouta Media Center said 23 civilians had been killed.
Rescuers arriving at the scene in Misraba, a town in the eastern Ghouta region, picked up the dead and wounded from the streets of a residential area in the town, as seen in a video posted by the Ghouta Media Center and the Syrian Civil Defence search-and-rescue group, also known as the White Helmets.
Rebels in Eastern Ghouta have held out against government forces throughout the nearly seven years of the country's civil war.
Conditions are dire inside the region, which is suffering from shortages of food and medicine due to a government-enforced blockade. The UN says there are some 350,000 people in need of immediate humanitarian aid in Eastern Ghouta.
Earlier this month, Syrian rebels attacked a nearby military installation in the area, seizing weapons and ammunition. Rebels and pro-government forces were still fighting for the compound, outside the town of Harasta, also in Eastern Ghouta, on Sunday. A major general in the army was killed in the battle Saturday, according to the Observatory. Pro-government pages on social media announced his death Sunday.
Also Sunday, at least 10 people were killed in an airstrike on an Islamic State-held village in eastern Syria, the activist-run DeirEzzor 24 group reported. The Observatory said at least 34 civilians were killed by a Russian airstrike. The numbers could not be immediately reconciled. The Justice For Life group also reported the attack on al-Shaafa and said civilians were killed.
The UN is set to resume peace talks between the government and the Syrian opposition in Geneva on Nov. 28. The opposition announced last week it was prepared to enter into direct talks with the government without preconditions.
The government has not yet named its delegation to the talks.
The UN's deputy envoy to Syria, Ramzy Ramzy, said after meeting Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad Saturday in Damascus that the talks would cover four main topics, a new constitution, governance, elections and combating terrorism.
Syria's Foreign Ministry announced Sunday that the government would attend Russian-sponsored talks in Sochi, slated for next month. Russia is a key ally of Damascus and intervened military to shore up President Bashar Assad when it appeared that rebels would threaten the capital in 2015. Its intervention, along with redoubled Iranian support, turned the war in Assad's favour.
At least 400,000 people have been killed in the civil war that followed a violent crackdown on demonstrations in 2011 against Assad family rule.