Monday, 24 September, 2018

Aid reaches Syria's Ghouta amid renewed regime attacks

Syrian forces attacking eastern Ghouta 'have surrounded rebels in Douma' Aid reaches Syria's Ghouta amid renewed regime attacks
Andrew Cummings | 11 March, 2018, 00:59

Eastern Ghouta has been besieged since 2013 but a relentless assault over the past three weeks has seen the Syrian army capture half of the territory, and is estimated to have killed almost 1,000 people.

Syrian government forces have split the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, cutting off the largest city Douma, media reports said on Saturday.

Syrian state TV showed pictures on Friday of what it said was a number of fighters boarding a bus to leave the enclave.

"If I thought about leaving Ghouta I would worry about the regime because there are no guarantees: and, second, I would worry about Jaish al-Islam, because they won't let us leave", said one activist in Douma.

Troops have cut off the region's biggest town, Douma, and isolated another, according to UK-based conflict monitors the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

Last Friday, the United Nations had managed to deliver aid to the region after a number of unsuccessful attempts that were halted by shelling.

The government has opened several safe routes out of eastern Ghouta for civilians, but none are known to have left so far the rebels are preventing them from fleeing the fighting.

For President Bashar al-Assad, the capture of Ghouta would mark a major victory as he builds on the military momentum created by Russia's 2015 entry into the war, which has restored his rule over swathes of Syria.

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Jaish al-Islam and the other main rebel faction, Failaq al-Rahman, have repeatedly denied that they are in negotiations with Damascus or its ally Russian Federation over their own evacuation.

Hamza Hassan, a surgeon working at one of the hospitals in eastern Ghouta, said that staff was overwhelmed with chlorine odour and that he treated 29 children with breathing problems.

Air strikes started up again after the evacuation, killing nine people and injuring around 28, the Observatory said.

Aid agencies said Syrian authorities removed basic health supplies, including trauma and surgical kits and insulin, from the convoys before they set off. Another man said there were 15 families in the basement who have been hiding for days.

The Observatory reported that troops are advancing under the cover of attacks by warplanes and helicopter gunships and confirmed that government forces captured large parts of Misraba.

The rebels in Eastern Ghouta are not one cohesive group.

The renewed artillery fire came as representatives of Damascus and businessmen pressed negotiations on a solution that would allow civilians or fighters to leave the enclave, the Observatory said.

"Living conditions are harsh".

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