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Relentless Assad bombing campaign turns this Syrian suburb into ‘hell on Earth’

Seven years ago, Eastern Ghouta was a green suburb. Today the UN calls it “hell on Earth,” and the potential site of crimes against humanity. In the last two weeks, more than 650 civilians have been killed and thousands injured by Russian and Syrian airstrikes and a ground assault. Nick Schifrin reports on one of the war's most-brutal moments.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There was no letup in the bombing, or the suffering today for hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in particular suburbs of Syria's capital, Damascus.

    As Nick Schifrin reports, weeks of attacks in the Eastern Ghouta area have killed hundreds, marking one of this brutal war's most-brutal moments.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Among the ruined remains of Eastern Ghouta, there are few places left to hide.

    After seven years, the U.N. says there are no longer any words that can do justice to the destruction, the desperation, the children whose entire lives have been spent at war, the children who will die having known nothing but war.

    It was seven years ago that Eastern Ghouta was a green suburb of Damascus. It was one of the first places to rise up against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Today, the U.N. calls it hell on earth, and the potential site of crimes against humanity, 400,000 civilians without food, water, or electricity.

    In the last two weeks, more than 650 civilians have been killed, and thousands injured, by Russian and Syrian planes, and a ground assault the Syrian military says is advancing and targeting rebel groups fighting the regime.

  • Man:

    We are all civilians. Why are they dropping the barrels on us? They have terrified the children and destroyed our homes.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    There's supposed to be a daily five-hour cease-fire pushed by Assad's main ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin. And now President Trump is calling for a national 30-day cease-fire. But the firing has not ceased.

  • Man:

    What truce? We are hiding in the basements. Russian strikes and barrel bombs. What truce? What sort of regime is this? God, have vengeance.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    There's supposed to be a humanitarian corridor manned by Russian and Syrian forces. The U.N. says not a single civilian has evacuated. The only corridors in Eastern Ghouta today are traps.

  • Kelly Currie:

    Assad and his allies want the civilians of Eastern Ghouta to walk into the arms of a regime that has been attacking them and starving them for the last seven years.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    On Ghouta's once busy streets, an ambulance is bombed out and abandoned. The humanitarian group Syrian American Medical Society, or SAMS, says airstrikes have destroyed nearly every medical facility, including a children's hospital.

    Local doctors operate without electricity or basic medical supplies.

  • Mohamed:

    The escalation has been night and day, and the staff have been working nonstop. The blood is flowing and the hospitals are overflowing with patients,, and there are no places to evacuate them.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And in the basement, Dr. Hamza treats a terrified 13-year-old, Mohammad Khadawardi. He has injuries to his trachea, esophagus, and spinal cord. He is paralyzed from the waist down, and is dying of starvation.

  • Dr. Hamza:

    His heart under the skin directly because there is no muscular mass.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Aid groups say more than 1,000 people need immediate medical evacuations. Aid convoys still aren't given access.

  • Dr. Tawfik Chamaa:

    All of these people, they do need lifesaving evacuations. These people will die during the next few days if we don't them out.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The White Helmets rescue group accuses Assad of using chlorine. They say a chemical attack this week killed more than a dozen civilians, including a child. Syrian and Russian officials say chlorine attacks are by rebel groups. They call the white helmets fake news, and accuse rebels of trapping civilians and instigating the violence.

  • Sergei Lavrov:

    The U.S. and its allies are simply exploiting baseless allegations of toxic weapons use by Damascus as a tool of anti-Syrian geopolitical engineering.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The U.S., whose priority remains ISIS, responds with accusations that Russia has failed to ensure the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons, and is Assad's enabler.

  • Robert Wood:

    Its continued denial of the Assad's regime culpability in the use of chemical weapons is simply incredible.

  • Gen. Joseph Votel:

    Diplomatically and militarily, Moscow plays both arsonist and firefighter, fueling tensions among all parties in Syria, then serving as an arbitrator to resolve disputes.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin left the door open for further intervention. He told reporters Russia will not — quote — "endlessly tolerate" rebel attacks during the so-called truce.

    But for the residents of Eastern Ghouta, there is no truce. And there are no longer any words, only a father whose son survived, expressing relief, and a father whose son died, saying goodbye.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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