'We are killing terrorists in eastern Ghouta, not our own people,' Syria's UN representative says

Syria's ambassador to the UN has denied reports that hundreds of civilians have been killed in eastern Ghouta, telling ITV News: "We are fighting terrorism."

Bashar Jaafari said that reports of at least 260 civilian casualtiesin the rebel-held Damascus suburb during a two-day bombardment by President Bashar al-Assad's forces were not accurate.

Speaking to ITV News correspondent Geraint Vincent near the UN headquarters in New York, Mr Jaafari said: "We are fighting the terrorists in Ghouta. Not people. We don't fight our own people."

When pressed about civilian casualties and schools and hospitals reportedly being targeted in government shelling, he said: "These civilians are Syrians, we are not killing our own people. We are fighting terrorists, this is the government's duty."

The UN has described the situation in eastern Ghouta as "hell on earth" and has called for a ceasefire to allow medical and humanitarian aid.

The UN human rights office said in a statement that at least 346 people have been killed in the suburb since the Syrian government escalated their offensive on February 4.

It added another 878 have been wounded, mostly in airstrikes hitting residential areas and 92 of these civilian deaths allegedly occurred in just one 13-hour period on Monday.

He said reports were "misleading" adding: "You know what? If there are a couple [of] hundred terrorists in Central Park, killing New York, what would your government do?"

The government bombardment - backed by Russian forces - has involved warplanes, helicopter gunships and missiles as well as artillery in a major escalation of violence near Assad's seat of power.

It is thought the Syrian government's airstrikes were laying the ground for determined push to recapture territory which has been controlled by opposition forces since 2012.

The eastern Ghouta suburbs are home to some 400,000 people as well as thousands of insurgents belonging to different factions.

The most powerful is the ultra conservative Army of Islam and Failaq al-Rahman, with a small presence of al-Qaida-linked fighters.