Syria market bombing angers UN
BEIRUT - A mid signs of diplomatic efforts to reach a deal leaving President Bashar Assad in control of only part of Syria, his government has clashed with the United Nations after the UN envoy condemned air strikes on a rebel-held Damascus suburb that killed more than 100 people.
The first bombers swept in about 2pm August 16th as people thronged the vegetable market in the district of Douma, about 11 kilometres north-east of central Damascus, activists and relief agencies reported.
At least two bombs hit the crowded marketplace, causing heavy casualties, they said. A second attack struck as the rescuers scrambled through the smoking devastation to get to the wounded.
“The corpses were scattered everywhere, human remains thrown onto the produce and the vegetables,” Douma-based photographer Basem al-Hakeem told the Guardian newspaper in Britain. “Under every box of tomatoes there was a corpse or part of a corpse.”
The United Nations’ Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, a Swedish-born Italian who is a veteran of conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, said attacks on civilian areas violated international law. “Hitting crowded civilian markets killing almost 100 of its own citizens by a government is unacceptable in any circumstances,” he declared on August 17th.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry accused him of “making statements that lack objectivity and fact, that rely on what is promoted in circles known for their hostility to Syria”.
The diplomatic spat flared after the UN Security Council endorsed a plan by de Mistura to set the stage for a new round of peace talks aimed at ending a complex, multi-sided conflict now halfway through its fifth year in which 240,000 people have died.
Douma was hit by ten air strikes, witnesses said. Medical facilities were overwhelmed. The bodies of the dead, wrapped in white shrouds, lined sidewalks before being buried in three mass graves. Warplanes returned the next day, inflicting more casualties.
Douma, like the neighbouring rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta and others in the agricultural belt ringing Damascus, has long been a battlefield. It is regularly battered by the regime, which still has a firm grip on the inner urban areas of the capital.
The regime said the Douma air strikes were retaliation for just such a bombardment two days earlier by Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam).
But the people of Douma and Eastern Ghouta have borne the brunt of Assad’s wrath for a long time. An August 12th air strike on Douma killed 37 civilians, including children.
In February, 29 air strikes against Jaysh al-Islam killed dozens of civilians and militiamen.
About 1,500 people, mainly civilians, were killed in Eastern Ghouta on August 21, 2013, when the regime unleashed sarin nerve gas on the rebel-held suburb.