BEIRUT: Syrian government warplanes attacked a busy market in a rebel-held suburb of the capital Damascus on Sunday, killing at least 82 people and wounding more than 200 in one of the deadliest single incidents involving government airstrikes since the crisis began nearly five years ago, activists said.
Syrian government air raids on rebel-held areas throughout the country have killed thousands over the past few years.
The air raids on the market in Douma occurred during rush hour when people were out shopping on the first working day of the week in Syria, the activists said.
“This is an official massacre that was carried out deliberately,” said Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. He said warplanes fired the first missile and minutes later when people gathered in the aftermath, another missile hit the same area.
Abdurrahman, whose group has a network of activists around the country, said a total of four missiles were fired on the market, killing 82 and wounding more than 200. He said the death toll is expected to rise because many of the wounded are in critical condition.
The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said the air raids killed at least 100 and wounded about 300, adding that rescue workers are digging through the rubble in search of survivors. Discrepancies in death tolls immediately after an attack are not uncommon in Syria.
“The situation is catastrophic,” a Douma-based activist who goes by the name of Mazen al-Shami told The Associated Press via Skype. He said clinics in the area are full and many of the wounded are being rushed in civilian cars to other medical facilities since ambulances are overwhelmed.
Al-Shami said mosque loudspeakers are issuing calls for residents to donate all types of blood. He added that hundreds of people were in the busy market when the first missile struck the area, inflicting heavy casualties.
An amateur video posted online by activists showed some 40 bodies of men and boys lined on the side of a street as more bodies were being brought in. Another video showed people helping the wounded leave the heavily damaged market area.
The videos appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting of the events.
Syria’s civil war, now in its 5th year, has killed more than 250,000 people and wounded at least a million.
On Saturday, al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria released seven members of a U.S.-backed rebel faction that it abducted late last month, the rebel group said in a statement.
The Division 30 rebel group said in its statement late Saturday that it hopes the Nusra Front will release the group’s commander who has been held since July 30. Days after the abduction, the Nusra Front attacked the Division 30 command in northern Syria, leading to the near-collapse of the group that has dozens of fighters.
The kidnapping and attack on Division 30, came a few days after the U.S. and Turkey announced the outlines of a deal to help rebels push IS back from a strip of territory it controls along the Syrian-Turkish border, replacing it with more moderate rebels backed by Washington and Ankara.
The Nusra Front said at the time it abducted the rebels because they were trained by the U.S. The Division 30 statement described Nusra Front fighters as “brothers” and thanked them for the release, saying, “We value this noble step.”
It said Division 30 is on the “same page with all holy warriors in Syria. “