Civilians of Ghouta trapped in regime's blistering assault

Marie Harrington
March 11, 2018

Eastern Ghouta is so close to Damascus that it is possible for rebels to fire mortars into the heart of the capital, which has led to scores of civilian deaths.

Four major rebel groups are now positioned inside Eastern Ghouta, namely the Islam Army, Failaq al-Rahman, Ahrar al-Sham and the Levant Liberation Committee, otherwise known as the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian Federation, his main ally, say the campaign is needed to end rebel shelling of Damascus and to end the rule of Islamist insurgents over the area's civilians.

Meanwhile an opposition website said that a group of fighters from the jihadists Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) arrived in central Hama province from Eastern Ghouta, a day after an evacuation deal was reached.

The Syrian army is making steady advances in the enclave, but it is facing a hostile West, which is threatening airstrikes to stop the push. The district is besieged by Syrian government forces.

State TV said 13 fighters and their families had arrived at the crossing point.

Grandi added that while most of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon have expressed a desire to return to their home country, "almost all of them say not right now" and any plans of them returning are "very premature".

The most densely populated areas in eastern Ghouta are still under rebel control, including the towns of Douma, Harasta, Kfar Batna, Saqba and Hammouriyeh.

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Around a dozen imprisoned fighters from a group linked to al-Qaeda's former affiliate in Syria were allowed to leave the besieged enclave on Friday.

Hundreds of thousands of residents are still thought to live in the Eastern Ghouta, seven years into the civil war.

"The regime has cut Ghouta into three parts by cutting the main roads linking them", said the Observatory's chief Rami Abdurrahman.

Early Friday, the air strikes stopped briefly, with the area seeing its calmest night in more than a week, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

Saturday, Ankara-backed rebels advanced against Kurdish militia in northwest Syria, coming to within two kilometres (just over one mile) of the flashpoint town of Afrin, the Observatory said.

"None of the civilians has been able to leave the enclave over the last 24 hours", Yevtushenko said.

Reports of chemical attacks that may have involved chlorine or organophosphorus have also emerged in recent days, despite warnings by western powers that use of chemical weapons might prompt them to intervene in the unfolding crisis.

Other reports by TheSundaySentinel

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