As the world focused on the devastating gas attack in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun this week, air raids were killing civilians in another part of the war-torn country.

Key points:

  • Amal Kassir says she lost 10 relatives in bombing near Damascus
  • Aunt, cousins, baby and unborn child among family members killed
  • UN calls for humanitarian ceasefire in besieged eastern Ghouta

A Syrian-American poet has detailed how her Colorado-based family were informed that 10 of their relatives, including her father’s sister, were killed in air raids on the Ghouta region in Damascus on Tuesday, the same day as the chemical attack.

Addressing an audience at The Kennedy Centre in Washington DC, Amal Kassir said her family sat and watched a mobile phone as the updates came in and their worst fears were confirmed.

“We lost 10 members of our family yesterday, 10 people, all in just one bombing,” she said at the meeting of spoken-word and hip-hop artists from Syria and Iran.

“We lost my aunt, her three daughters, one of which had a baby in her arms who also passed away. Then it was her daughter-in-law who was pregnant, let’s add two there, then it was her mother-in-law, her niece, it was my cousin’s two-year-old son, and I’m missing somebody.”

Ms Kassir, who describes herself as a story-telling activist, said it was the first time one of her father’s siblings had been taken by the war in Syria.

“My grandmother hasn’t lost a child in 28 years, and she can’t utter a word right now.”

A sister’s goodbye

Ms Kassir said three days before the bombings her aunt had checked in with each of her siblings.

“I kid you not, she sent a message to the family WhatsApp group, straight up asking about every single one of her siblings … naming them all, almost like a goodbye.”

Ms Kassir’s father, Mahmoud, told FOX31 in Denver, Colorado the loss of family in Syria felt like a nightmare.

“It’s just like a dream or a nightmare and you’re just waking up and like is this real?” he said.

UN calls for ceasefire in Ghouta

There are 400,000 people trapped in eastern Ghouta, which has seen relentless aerial bombardment and shelling by the Syrian Government, Amnesty International says.

In a Facebook post, Ms Kassir said Ghouta had “seen a bombardment of at least 120 air strikes” in the days prior to her family members being killed.

Activists and residents said Syrian jets bombed residential areas in the city of Douma, in the Ghouta region on Monday (local time), the Reuters news agency reported.

The UN called for a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire in Ghouta on Thursday, to allow aid to access the 400,000 people besieged in the region.

“Everybody agrees, including the Russians, that the situation there is very dire and that a special arrangement, a special agreement is needed for eastern Ghouta,” UN humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said.

“Nobody wants another eastern Aleppo to be happening on our watch.”