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Death toll from market attack in Syrian capital rises to 44

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Beirut, Mar 21 : The death toll from an insurgent mortar assault on a Damascus market has risen to 44, state media said today, making it one of the deadliest attacks in the capital since the start of Syria’s seven-year civil war.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll from yesterday’s attack at 43, including 11 pro-government fighters. Videos of the aftermath posted online showed scenes of chaos, with people screaming and bodies and mannequins strewn across the ground.

The government blamed the attack on rebels in the eastern Ghouta suburbs, where Syrian troops backed by Russian warplanes have been waging a major offensive over the past month that has killed hundreds of people.

Hospital director Mohammed Haitham al-Husseini told Al-Ikhbariya TV that 35 others were wounded in the mortar attack, with six in intensive care. He said most of the casualties were women and children.

Witnesses told state-run TV that the mortar fell during rush hour in the popular market on the eve of Mother’s Day, celebrated in the Middle East with the start of spring.

A child said he was out shopping with his family for Mother’s Day when they heard a huge explosion.

“Everyone started running, and people were going into narrow streets to give first aid to others,” the child said.

A woman speaking in the hospital said her niece, who was wounded by shrapnel, lost her four-year old son. “We just saw him in the morgue,” the woman told Al-Ikhbariya. The TV network did not identify the woman or the child.

Government forces meanwhile continued to pound opposition-held areas with shelling and airstrikes.

The first-responders group known as the White Helmets said 56 civilians were killed yesterday in Douma, the largest town in eastern Ghouta, updating an earlier toll.

Videos from the White Helmets showed rescue workers surrounded by fires and ongoing shelling struggling to retrieve survivors from a building in Douma.

The assault on eastern Ghouta has displaced 45,000 people, the United Nations said yesterday. Before the latest offensive, it was estimated that 400,000 people were trapped in the besieged region.

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