Syrian regime forces hit Douma with heavy bombing, using suspected barrel bombs, from Monday night to Tuesday, killing at least 18 people in the capital of rebel-held Eastern Ghouta province. But the bombing was just the latest blow in the brutal campaign the regime has been carrying out in the Damascus countryside for the past week, human rights activists said.
Roughly 178 civilians were killed in the province from Feb. 5-9, the day before the suspected barrel bomb attack in Douma. In one attack on Thursday, regime forces hit a busy market in Kafr Batna city, killing 39 civilians. The next day, the regime launched more than 60 rockets at a residential neighborhood in Douma, killing 28 civilians, according to a report from the Syrian Network for Human Rights.
SNHR is an independent human rights monitoring group that relies on a widespread network of independent human rights advocates, field hospital workers and media activists sprinkled around the country, often operating in secret, to compile primary sources when an attack occurs. For this particular report, the group obtained more than 35 videos and 50 photographs of attacks in Eastern Ghouta.
Regime forces claimed the bombing was a response to rebel groups in the area firing at least 10 rockets toward Damascus. SNHR’s report found “there was no rebel present or any military centers or gatherings in the areas that were targeted by regime forces.” Roughly 80 percent of those killed in Eastern Ghouta this week were civilians and at least 29 were children, according to SNHR.
Dozens of amateur videos, including some released by the Islamic State group, showed civilians in Douma on Tuesday combing through the charred remains of buildings, covered in ash, for survivors. Photos showed dozens of dead children and entire families stuck under piles of rubble. By Tuesday morning, some buildings were still on fire, so the death toll was expected to rise as bodies are pulled out of the rubble.
That morning, BBC broadcast an interview President Bashar Assad in Damascus in which he giggled at the mention of his use of barrel bombs, calling them a “childish story.” The Syrian regime has bombs, he said, but not barrels.
A barrel bomb is an explosive device made from a metal container filled with nails and shrapnel. Human rights organizations have accused the Assad regime of using the devices countless times, despite a United Nations resolution that prohibits them from being used in highly populated areas.
“Assad has been getting away with mass crimes for several years. The international fight against the extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS) that consumes Western powers has provided him with a much welcome distraction, allowing him to continue the killing unbothered,” Human Rights Watch's United Nations director said in a statement that fervently condemned the regime’s continued use of barrel bombs in Syria. “So Assad can go on and have fun with barrel bombs while Syrians die.”