By Safvan Allahverdi
WASHINGTON (AA) – The UN expressed grave concern Wednesday over the rising number of civilian deaths in Syria amid the country’s ongoing civil war.
Speaking at a daily press briefing, UN Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq said intense airstrikes and shelling on the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta have reportedly killed dozens of civilians and injured many more over the last 48 hours.
Eastern Ghouta has been under siege for five years and the Bashar al-Assad regime has intensified its onslaught of the city in the past eight months.
Humanitarian access has been completely cut off to its 400,000 residents, making it nearly impossible for food or medicine to get into the district and leaving thousands of patients in need of treatment.
Haq said the UN is also concerned for the safety and protection of two million people living in the city of Idlib, where airstrikes and shelling continue to be reported daily, resulting in civilian deaths and injuries as well as the destruction of civilian infrastructure.
"In the past three days, the UN has received reports of airstrikes across Idlib that resulted in civilian deaths and injuries and damaged medical facilities, schools and other civilian infrastructure," Haq noted, adding that over 1,200 schools remain closed due to the ongoing hostilities, impacting thousands of students in the city.
Haq also called for the cessation of hostilities in Idlib, Eastern Ghouta, Afrin and Raqqah for humanitarian access and medical evacuation.
In addition, the UN Security Council (UNSC) is expected to convene sometime to discuss the humanitarian situation in Syria, especially in Eastern Ghouta, on the request of Sweden and Kuwait, who will chair the UNSC for February.
Located in northern Syria near the Turkish border, Idlib province was declared a de-escalation zone according to a cease-fire agreement last May reached in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana.
The Syrian regime, however, has repeatedly violated the deal and has targeted residential areas in opposition-held no-tension zones like Idlib.
Controlled by anti-regime armed groups, the province has been under intense airstrikes for the past two months.
In January alone, 211 civilians were killed and 1,447 wounded.
Syria has been locked in a devastating civil war since March 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.
While UN officials say hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict, regime officials say the death toll is closer to 10,000.