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Feb 21, 5:04 AM EST

New strikes kill 10 in rebel-held suburbs of Syrian capital


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BEIRUT (AP) -- New airstrikes and shelling on the besieged, rebel-held suburbs of the Syrian capital killed at least 10 people on Wednesday, a rescue organization and a monitoring group said.

Syrian government forces and Russian aircraft have shown no signs of letting up their indiscriminate aerial and artillery assault on eastern Ghouta since they stepped up strikes late Sunday.

At least 260 people have been killed since Sunday night, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, including 10 people in a wave of strikes on the town of Kafr Batna on Wednesday.

The Syrian Civil Defense search-and-rescue group, also known as the White Helmets, said government forces targeted the town with airstrikes, artillery fire, and barrel bombs - crude, explosives-filled oil drums dropped from helicopters at high altitudes. It reported that several other people were wounded.

The locally-run Ghouta Media Center reported strikes on Kafr Batna and other towns in the region outside Damascus.

The Russian military is supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces and was instrumental to the all-out assault on the eastern half of Syria's largest city, Aleppo, in late 2016 to eject rebels from their enclave there.

Tens of thousands of civilians ended up fleeing their homes. Many have been unable to return. Hundreds more were killed in indiscriminate shelling and bombardment. A subsequent U.N. investigation charged that the campaign amounted to forced displacement of a population and rose to the level of a war crime.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said earlier this week eastern Aleppo could serve as a model for eastern Ghouta.

Pro-government forces have been amassing since the weekend on the perimeter of the rebel-held region, a collection of towns and farmland that once provided grain and fruit to the capital before nearly seven years of warfare turned it into a landscape of havoc and despair.

At least 400,000 people have been killed in Syria's civil war, sparked by a violent crackdown on popular demonstrations against Assad in 2011.

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