The deadly bombardment of eastern Ghouta in Syria is said to have killed at least 13 more civilians early on Thursday, ahead of a potential UN vote on a 30-day ceasefire.
“The rocket fire hasn’t stopped this morning. Around 200 ground-to-ground rockets struck Douma alone,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the UK-based group The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The UN said on Wednesday that at least 346 people had been killed and hundreds more wounded since President Assad’s forces stepped up their offensive at the start of the month.
At least 92 people died in just one 13-hour period on Monday, the UN added, with Secretary General Antonio Guterres calling it “hell on Earth” and urging an immediate suspension of “all war activities”.
On Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel added to the international outcry, calling the situation a “massacre”.
She said the Syrian regime was “fighting not against terrorists, but against its own people, the killing of children, the destruction of hospitals, all this is a massacre which needs to be condemned”.
Around 400,000 people are living under siege in eastern Ghouta, near the capital Damascus, with shellfire, rockets, airstrikes and barrel bombs pounding the area and crippling food shortages.
Terrified residents have been seeking refuge in basements, but many have not been able to escape and footage has shown adults and children pulled out of rubble after attacks.
The Syrian government insists that it is fighting terrorists who are also attacking Damascus – and that it does not intentionally attack civilians.
A UN vote on a 30-day ceasefire in the whole of Syria could take place on Thursday, after Sweden and Kuwait tabled a proposed resolution.
It would allow food, aid and medical evacuations from eastern Ghouta and other areas.
UN Syrian envoy Staffan de Mistura said he hoped the resolution would be passed but admitted it was an “uphill” struggle.
However, the resolution would not exempt attacks on extremists from IS, the Nusra Front or al Qaeda – groups the Syrian regime says it is fighting.
Russia – Syria’s key military ally in the civil war – has said it is not directly involved in Ghouta attacks and called the ceasefire proposal unrealistic.
It could yet veto the proposal and its ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, has instead called for a Security Council meeting.
“That’s a long and complex process to achieve. Cessations cannot be established by putting a word in the resolution,” said Mr Nebenzia.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has also said the “terrorists are responsible” for the bloodshed in eastern Ghouta.
The bomardment has drawn parallels with attacks on eastern Aleppo, which claimed thousands of civilian lives as the regime’s relentless attacks ground down rebel resistance.
Syria’s complex seven-year civil war has claimed more than 340,000 lives, forced millions to flee their homes and left cities in ruins.
Figures show the UK has taken in more than 10,000 Syrian refugees from countries around the conflict zone since 2014.