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Abu Malek, one of the survivors of a chemical attack in the Ghouta region of Damascus that took place in 2013, uses his crutches to walk along a street in the Ghouta town of Ain Tarma, Syria, April 7. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh(reuters_tickers)
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Russia proposed a two-day ceasefire on Monday in the last major rebel stronghold near the Syrian capital Damascus, where warplanes killed at least 41 people in two days of air strikes as Russian-backed government forces tried to capture the area.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring body, said 18 people were killed by bombing on Monday and 23 on Sunday.
At least 147 have been killed by air strikes and shelling since the Syrian army, with Russian air power, began the offensive to take the besieged rebel-held Eastern Ghouta nearly two weeks ago.
The area of densely-populated agricultural land is the last major territory near the capital still held by rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad's government. Across Syria, fighters have been driven out of most towns and cities in the past two years since Russia joined the war on Assad's behalf.
Eastern Ghouta is also one of several "de-escalation zones" across western Syria where Russia has brokered deals to ease fighting.
Russia proposed imposing a ceasefire in the de-escalation zone for Tuesday and Wednesday, Interfax news agency reported, quoting the Defence Ministry.
"Such measures will ease tension in the western part of the de-escalation zone," General-Lieutenant Sergei Kuralenko, in charge of Russia's ceasefire monitoring centre in Syria, was quoted as saying.
The enclave has been besieged by Assad forces since 2012, but the siege has become far worse in recent months since routes used to smuggle in food were shut. Residents are so short of food that they are eating trash, fainting from hunger and forcing their children to eat on alternate days, the U.N. World Food Programme said in a report last week.
On Monday, 13 shells hit government-held Damascus and its surrounding areas, Syrian state media SANA reported. Four people were injured from a shell that hit the capital on Sunday, SANA said.
(Reporting by Sarah Dadouch; Additional Reporting by Polina Devitt in Moscow; Editing by Peter Graff)