Many civilians killed as Syria regime strikes shake Ghouta

The brutal onslaught on the last major rebel stronghold near the capital, the latest regime offensive of the seven-year civil war, has sparked outrage but little action from the West. The intensity of the attacks has accelerated in the past two weeks, during which about 700 civilians were reported killed.

The Russian Defense Ministry said militants could leave with their families and personal weapons through a secure corridor out of eastern Ghouta, where government forces are making rapid gains in a fierce assault.

Aksoy said the camps would host a total of 170,000 people.

United Nations war crimes investigators say a Russian plane was apparently behind a deadly airstrike in November in Syria's Idlib province that killed 84 people at a marketplace, an attack which could amount to a war crime.

With the latest deaths, 95 civilians have been killed in regime bombardment of the battered enclave since early Monday, it said.

In their 15th report, published Tuesday, the investigators also accused a US-led coalition of breaching worldwide humanitarian law with a deadly strike a year ago on a school near the Islamic State group's former stronghold of Raqa.

The independent investigators called on all sides to allow access to besieged areas and all detainees. The report says "all available information" indicates a Russian plane carried out the November 13 airstrike that hit a market, surrounding houses and a police station run by Western-backed Syrian rebels in the town of Atarib, in northern Idlib.

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The report, based on 500 confidential interviews with victims and witnesses overseas or in Syria via social media, calls on all sides in the war-torn country to allow access to areas that are under siege and to all detainees. The Assad government has never let the team into the country.

The war crimes investigators acknowledged there was "no evidence to indicate that the. attack deliberately targeted civilians or the Atareb market". "Humanitarian aid has been instrumentalised as a weapon of war with siege warfare and denial of life-giving assistance used to compel civilian communities and parties to the conflict alike to surrender or starve", it said.

About one-third of Ghouta, on the edge of the city of Damascus, was retaken by government troops, Sky News reported.

"The use of chemical weapons is prohibited under customary worldwide humanitarian law regardless of the presence of a valid military target, including when used against enemy fighters", it said. It accused the government of using "poison gas".

Over the years, numerous rounds of UN-backed Syria peace talks have failed to stem the fighting. Western powers, however, blame the Syrian government and Russian Federation for the crisis.

"After repeated delaying of the resolution of the UN Security Council 2401..."

In that case however, they stopped short of evoking war crimes.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)

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