Syrian forces have cut off Douma, the largest town in rebel-held eastern Ghouta, from the rest of the region. The military has captured over half of eastern Ghouta following a ferocious three-week assault.
Syrian government forces on Saturday marched between Douma and Harasta, the two largest towns in rebel-held eastern Ghouta, cutting them off from the rest of the region and effectively splitting the enclave into three parts.
"Regime forces have divided eastern Ghouta into three parts — Douma and its surroundings, Harasta in the west, and the rest of the towns further south," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitor, said.
The Syrian army also captured the town of Misraba during Saturday's advance, while the roads between Douma and Harasta were now within their firing range, the monitor said.
Shelling and airstrikes over Douma were ongoing on Saturday, according to the AFP news agency.
Government troops launched a ferocious assault on eastern Ghouta, the last rebel-held area near the capital of Damascus, on February 18 and have now overrun more than half of the region. Two main Islamist rebel groups remain present in eastern Ghouta, Jaish al-Islam and Failaq al-Rahman, as do a small number of militants from the Nusra Front, al-Qaida's former Syrian arm.
The military's indiscriminate three-week assault on the region has seen around 1,000 civilians killed, more than a quarter of which have been children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Hundreds more people have been injured.
The UN estimated that some 400,000 people remain trapped in the enclave, which has been under rebel control since 2013.
Despite UN calls for a temporary ceasefire across Syria, the government of President Bashar al-Assad has maintained that the bombing campaign is necessary to root out Islamist militants from area.
Evacuation deals begin
The onslaught follows the pattern of previous offensives launched by Assad's regime on rebel-held regions, by deploying relentless shelling and air power in a bid to force opposition insurgents into an evacuation agreement.
Late on Friday, a small number of fighters for the Nusra Front were allowed to leave eastern Ghouta with their families under such a deal. Syrian state television aired footage of a single bus carrying 13 "fighters" out of the area, without naming their affiliation.
Brief relief after days of food shortages
On Friday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported that 13 trucks loaded with supplies had reached some 12,000 people in eastern Ghouta, before they were forced to pull out when shelling resumed.
Aid groups have been attempting to deliver food and medical aid to the besieged region since Monday but have only been able to deliver a small portion during the designated daily five-hour ceasefire. Agencies claim that the window is too short to allow sufficient aid to enter the besieged region, while there have also been reports of rebels targeting the convoys.
UN agencies have also accused Syrian military forces of stripping convoy trucks of medical supplies.
dm/xx (AFP, Reuters, AP)