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Syria activists: 22 civilians die in fighting near Damascus

This photo provided on Nov. 16, 2016 by the Syrian anti-government activist group Ghouta Media Center,  shows an injured man receiving treatment at a hospital after Syrian government airstrikes hit in Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria. (Uncredited / AP)
This photo provided on Nov. 16, 2016 by the Syrian anti-government activist group Ghouta Media Center, shows an injured man receiving treatment at a hospital after Syrian government airstrikes hit in Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria. (Uncredited / AP)

BEIRUT – Syrian government shelling and airstrikes have killed nearly two dozen civilians in three days of fighting in the suburbs of the capital, Damascus, where rebels are trying to take over a military installation, activists and a monitoring group said Thursday.

The fighting in the opposition-held Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus is the latest in now regular breaches of a local truce brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran, that came into force in August.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 22 civilians have been killed, and more than 100 wounded. Syrian state media, meanwhile, said rebel shelling from the area killed one person and wounded 13 in the government-held capital.

Fighters from the rebel Ahrar al-Sham faction on Wednesday penetrated a military compound outside Harasta, a town in Eastern Ghouta, according to the activist-run Ghouta Media center. Fighting over the facility was still underway Thursday, according to the Observatory’s director, Rami Abdurrahman.

Pro-government forces lost 37 fighters, including nine officers, in the clashes; scores of rebels were also killed or wounded, the Observatory said.

Ahrar al-Sham’s media arm published a photo purporting to show a munitions cache it uncovered inside the compound.

Activists believe the worsening humanitarian situation sparked the fighting. Eastern Ghouta has largely been cut off by a tight blockade by pro-government forces, despite the August “de-escalation” agreement that was supposed to allow humanitarian aid in. The government has authorized only a limited number of relief convoys into the area. The U.N. estimates there are 350,000 people trapped by the blockade.

In October, residents stormed a food warehouse amid reports of starvation among children. The Observatory said two children died from malnutrition during the last two months.

“My children are here and they are hungry,” said activist Ahmad Khansour. “I’m ready to do something about it.”


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