Bombardments by Syrian government forces have killed dozens of civilians in the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area outside Damascus, activists say.
Update: A surge in attacks by the Syrian government and its allies killed 94 people in the rebel pocket of eastern Ghouta in the space of 24 hours, a war monitoring group said on Monday.
Air strikes, rocket fire and shelling on the besieged suburbs of Damascus also wounded another 325 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The army is believed to be preparing a ground offensive.
Wael Olwan, spokesman for the Failaq al-Rahman rebel group in eastern Ghouta, said there had been heavy bombing throughout the day.
“There are no ground invasions in the field and clashes, but there is very big shelling and preparatory fire,” he said.
Urging a halt to the bombardment, a UN official said the situation was spiraling out of control.
Almost 400,000 people live in the Eastern Ghouta, which has been under siege since 2013.
It is the last remaining opposition-held enclave near the capital Damascus.
@monitor_sur @afp #LookingForNews>>> AFP France #UPDATE Heavy Syrian regime bombardment of rebel-held Eastern Ghouta killed at least 18 civilians, a monitor says, as government forces appeared to prepare for a ground assault https://t.co/m1XRFzpFxA… https://t.co/Ktd1rd61AH
— JUST PURE INFORMATION (@Monitor_sur) February 19, 2018
Syrian forces stepped up their campaign to retake the area earlier this month, reportedly killing hundreds of people and injuring many more.
It led to urgent appeals from the UN and a rare ceasefire to deliver supplies to civilians living in the conflict zone.
The attacks on the Eastern Ghouta area since Sunday have hit not only civilians but also their means of survival, targeting bakeries, warehouses and anything else that may hold food supplies.
It is the worst single day of bombing that people there have seen in years. People are fearful of it becoming another Aleppo scenario.
Aid workers say the attacks targeted major roads in the area, which will block any aid or rescue operation and hinder the movement of ambulances.
The death toll is rising because medical facilities were also hit. Four makeshift hospitals – including a maternity facility, were struck on Monday. The rebels have been responding with mortar attacks on Damascus, but the government’s military might is far stronger.
UN regional humanitarian coordinator Panos Moumtzis said it was “imperative” to end the “senseless human suffering” in Eastern Ghouta.
“Many residents have little choice but to take shelter in basements and underground bunkers with their children,” he noted.
However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said conditions in the enclave were being exaggerated by international actors.
“In the UN, the topic of humanitarian problems in Eastern Ghouta and Idlib is being actively hyped up,” he said, according to Russian media reports.
Next month marks eight years of civil conflict in Syria.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and an estimated five million have fled the country.