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Air strikes on Syria's Ghouta kill 45 civilians: monitor

Government troops have advanced rapidly across farmland in Eastern Ghouta in the past week and had wrested control of 40 percent of the enclave as of early Tuesday
Since the latest deadly raids in Ghouta about 850 civilians have been killed

Fresh air strikes on Eastern Ghouta near Damascus brought the death toll for Wednesday's bombardment on the rebel-held enclave near Damascus to 45, a monitor said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said at least 18 of the day's victims were killed in strikes carried out by Russian warplanes on Hammuriyeh.

The head of the Britain-based Observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman, said four of the 45 victims were children.

The Observatory had earlier reported 18 dead in Ghouta on Wednesday.

The latest deadly raids brought to around 850 the number of civilians killed since Syrian and allied forces intensified their air campaign on the besieged enclave on February 18.

"Regime forces control more than 50 percent of Ghouta," said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring organisation.

The blistering onslaught has prompted outrage against the regime, with the United Nations' human rights chief accusing the government of orchestrating an "apocalypse" in Syria.


- UN Security Council seeks to shore up ceasefire -

Amid the ongoing onslaught, the UN Security Council on Wednesday met behind closed doors to step up pressure on Russia and Syria to abide by a ceasefire and allow deliveries of humanitarian aid and evacuations from Eastern Ghouta.

France and Britain requested the urgent meeting as the Syrian government sent militias as reinforcements to the rebel enclave and heavy airstrikes battered key towns.

Dutch Ambassador Karel van Oosterom, who holds the council presidency, told reporters after the three-hour meeting that council members "expressed concern about the humanitarian situation" and "reiterated its call for implementation" of the ceasefire resolution. 

The council heard a briefing via video-conference from UN peace envoy Staffan de Mistura who offered to help broker a deal with Russia to allow fighters in Eastern Ghouta to leave, according to a diplomat.

The council diplomat who attended the meeting said there was strong support for the envoy's offer to help negotiate the departure of the fighters in a bid to halt the violence.

Three armed groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad's forces have written to the Security Council offering to dissassociate themselves from jihadists and help organize their expulsion from Eastern Ghouta.

Council members also discussed plans for a new aid convoy to travel to the main town of Douma in Eastern Ghouta on Thursday to complete the delivery of aid that was cut short during shelling on Monday.

Nearly half of the food carried on the 46-truck convoy which had been approved by the Syrian government could not be delivered and part of the medical and health supplies were removed from trucks by Syrian authorities, the UN said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday called for the aid convoy to have safe access to Eastern Ghouta.

Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog, who negotiated the ceasefire resolution along with Kuwait, said ahead of the meeting that implementation of the truce remains "totally and completely inadequate."

"So far we see minimal signs only from the Syrian authorities to implement the resolution and we are very, very disappointed about that," Skoog told reporters


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