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The Journal Gazette

  • Assoicated Press Members of the Syrian Red Crescent distribute medicines for civilians in Douma, eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, Syria, on Monday as the violence in the nation continues.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018 1:00 am

Russian plane crashes in Syria, 39 dead

Technical issues blamed as Assad continues assault

Associated Press

BEIRUT – A Russian military cargo plane crashed near an air base in Syria on Tuesday, killing all 39 Russian servicemen on board in a blow to Russian operations in Syria. The Russian military quickly insisted the plane was not shot down and blamed the crash on a technical error.

Meanwhile, shelling near the rebel-held eastern suburbs of Damascus killed dozens of people over the past 24 hours as President Bashar Assad's government pushed its assault on the capital's rebel-held suburbs. International aid workers on a rare humanitarian mission inside the besieged area described dramatic scenes of rescuers trying to pull corpses from the rubble of buildings and children who hadn't seen daylight in 15 days.

The mission on Monday to the area known as eastern Ghouta was cut short after the government shelling escalated while the aid workers were still inside, calling into question future aid shipments to the encircled region, the last major opposition stronghold near the capital. Opposition activists and a war monitor said 80 people were killed Monday and at least nine were killed Tuesday.

“People were telling us very desperate stories. They are tired, they are angry. They don't want aid, what they want is the shelling to stop,” Pawel Krzysiek, head of communications for the Syrian branch of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said Tuesday.

He said thousands of families were huddled in shelters, reluctant to eat in front of each other because of the pervasive hunger, and children who watched as aid workers tried to pull corpses from the rubble.

“No child should be witnessing this in their very early state of development. But the children of Douma and the children of eastern Ghouta unfortunately do, and that's what makes the situation very, very dramatic,” he said.

The violence called into question future aid deliveries. Another aid convoy is scheduled to enter eastern Ghouta on Thursday, but Laerke said security measures must be guaranteed for this to happen.

The opposition's Syrian Civil Defense search-and-rescue group reported at least nine people were killed in airstrikes on the town of Jisreen. The group, also known as the White Helmets, said two of its volunteers, and 28 others, suffered difficulties breathing following shelling on the town of Hammouriyeh on Monday evening. It accused the government of using “poison gas.” The Observatory reported 18 people suffered breathing difficulties, without attributing a cause.

It was the eighth allegation of chlorine gas use reported by the Syrian American Medical Society this year. The reports could not be independently confirmed, and Russia used its Security Council veto to freeze the work of a U.N. body investigating such reports earlier this year.