Syrian families have taken to living in crowded, dark basements to escape the constant bombing in Douma, the biggest town in the rebel-held eastern Ghouta enclave. As many as 300 people may be packed into a shelter, with no bathroom and just one toilet. However, more and more families are having to sleep in the open on the streets, because there is no more room in any of Douma's cellars.
President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian allies have said the onslaught on eastern Ghouta is needed to end the rule of Islamist insurgents over civilians there and to stop mortar fire on nearby Damascus. But the intensity of the offensive, which the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says has killed 1,160 people in three weeks, has provoked condemnation from Western countries and pleas from United Nations agencies for a humanitarian halt.
Government forces have now captured more than half the rebel enclave, entirely besieging Douma and the large town of Harasta, cutting them off from each other and neighboring areas. As the Syrian army pushes deeper into eastern Ghouta, thousands of families have fled from the front lines to Douma, hoping to escape bombing. The opposition-controlled town council said the situation had become "catastrophic," with no more room below ground for civilians to hide. At least 70 people had been buried in a town park because air strikes made it unsafe to reach the cemetery on the outskirts, it said.
Warplanes, helicopters and artillery rain down a near-constant stream of missiles, bombs, rockets and shells on the enclave, which is home to an estimated 400,000 civilians who face dire shortages of food and medicine, leading to severe malnutrition and ravaging illness.
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