Syria market bombing angers UN

Friday 21/08/2015
UN Humanitarian Chief and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien waves to a Syrian refugee in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley

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.