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Syria war: Harrowing images show 10 days of devastation after bombings, airstrikes

Click to play video: 'Fragile limited ceasefire about to begin in Syria'
Fragile limited ceasefire about to begin in Syria
ABOVE: Fighting continues in Syria's eastern Ghouta despite ceasefire – Feb 26, 2018

WARNING: Images below contain graphic content. Discretion is advised.

Airstrikes, shellings and the reported use of chemical weapons have killed more than 580 Syrian civilians, including countless children and women, in less than two weeks, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

On Feb. 18, the Syrian government started launching attacks in the rebel-held eastern Ghouta, a suburb that is about 10 kilometres east of Syria’s capital city, Damascus, and home to around 400,000 people.

The bombardment in the past week and a half has been one of the most intense in Syria’s seven-year war, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Eastern Ghouta’s humanitarian situation is so dire, it’s caused widespread international condemnation, with UN secretary-general António Guterres describing the situation in the enclave as “hell on earth.”

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Why is this happening now?

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government has been trying to drive opposition fighters from eastern Ghouta since 2013.

The area has eluded government control despite being encircled and sporadically bombarded for almost five years. Now, it appears the Syrian government and its Russian backers have decided to retake the territory at any cost.

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Much like rebel-held eastern Aleppo in late 2016, eastern Ghouta is set to become a blood-soaked war region as Assad tries to bomb it into submission.

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With Russia and Iran’s help, Assad has turned the war decisively in his favour, recapturing key areas of the country from rebels and Islamic State militants.

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There are even reports that the Syrian government is using chemical weapons. On Sunday, several people suffered symptoms consistent with exposure to chlorine gas in eastern Ghouta, and one child was killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

READ MORE: North Korea sending chemical weapons to Syria, UN report says

WATCH: In Syria, a father says goodbye to his dead child

Click to play video: 'In Syria, a father says last goodbye to dead child'
In Syria, a father says last goodbye to dead child

Video circulated on social media networks in the aftermath of the attack showed a child’s corpse wrapped in a blue cloth, and several bare-chested men and young boys appearing to struggle for breath, with some holding nebulizers to their mouths and noses.

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The Syrian government has consistently denied using chemical weapons in the war that will soon enter its eighth year.

Ceasefire not working

On Saturday, the UN Security Council demanded a 30-day truce across Syria. But the ceasefire resolution was not upheld and the bombing continued.

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Russia then ordered a five-hour daily humanitarian pause on Tuesday in order to allow civilians caught in the fighting to flee from the rebel-held area.

But after a brief lull, the agreement collapsed into renewed bombardment on Tuesday. Not a single person inside eastern Ghouta has been evacuated from the area, Syria’s civil defence told Al Jazeera.

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Moscow and Damascus blamed rebels for the collapse of the truce on Tuesday, saying fighters had shelled a safe route intended for civilians to leave the enclave.

On Wednesday, the UN was trying to deliver aid across conflict lines to the people of eastern Ghouta, but UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said the area “has totally collapsed.”

He said that unless this changes, “We will soon see even more people dying from starvation and disease than from the bombing and the shelling.”

— With files from the Associated Press

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