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The New Arab

Syrian regime gains ground in Eastern Ghouta

Over 600 have been killed in the regime's brutal escalation in Eastern Ghouta [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 March, 2018

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The Assad regime is gaining ground in one of the last rebel-held enclaves in Syria, as the intense bombardment of Eastern Ghouta continues.
Syrian regime forces gained more ground in Eastern Ghouta this weekend, as pro-Bashar al-Assad forces continue their brutal bombardment of the opposition enclave outside Damascus.

The eastern edge of the besieged suburbs that is home to some 400,000, was under assault by ground forces, including the army's elite Tiger Force, media and activists reported on Saturday and Sunday.

Regime forces took almost complete control of the town of al-Shayfouniya on Saturday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Assad regime - backed by Russia and Iran - escalated its offensive on the province two weeks ago in a bid to regain one of the last rebel-held areas on the edge of the capital.

Eastern Ghouta - described as "hell on earth" by the UN chief - has been under a Russian-backed siege since 18 February, which has claimed over 600 lives and injured thousands.

Neither the UN Security Council resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire, nor the Russian-imposed five-hour "humanitarian pause" have done much to improve the situation in the rebel-held region east of Damascus.

In a statement, the Jaish al-Islam rebel group said its fighters had withdrawn from two areas due to the intense bombardment.

The rebel group accused the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and Russia of waging a "scorched earth" campaign.

Three other areas were named by a military news service run by Lebanon's Hizballah group, reportedly captured by the Syrian army at the eastern and south-eastern rim of the enclave.

A source from Ghouta's media centre told al-Araby al-Jadeed that Bashar al-Assad's regime launched over 30 airstrikes on the town of Douma between dawn and 8am on Saturday morning, critically injuring numerous civilians and damaging buildings.

They added that regime warplanes dropped burning napalm bombs on the town of Mesraba during the night and again in the morning, which inflicted numerous civilians with burns.

Despite Russia's proposed five-hour daily "truce" planned to allow residents to evacuate Eastern Ghouta and for aid to be delivered, no civilians have been able to leave.

Aid convoys have also not been able to deliver supplies to the besieged territory.

On Thursday, the US State Department called Russia's humanitarian plan a "joke," saying that residents did not trust the Moscow's truce plan.

Eastern Ghouta has been under a devastating regime siege since 2013, leading to chronic food and medicine shortages which have brought its 400,000 residents to the brink of starvation.

Many residents in Eastern Ghouta fear the area will follow a similar trajectory as Eastern Aleppo - which, in 2016, was subject to a fierce ground assault following heavy bombardment that led to the area's recapture.

The Syrian conflict began when the Baath regime responded to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings with military force.

It triggered an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army.

According to independent monitors, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies. Millions more have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria.

The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime - which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians - have led to war crimes investigations.

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