Syrian and allied forces enter rebel-held Douma in eastern Ghouta | News | DW | 07.04.2018

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Syrian and allied forces enter rebel-held Douma in eastern Ghouta

The offensive to recapture the last opposition-held area near Damascus has entered its second day. The loss of Douma city would be a devastating defeat for the Syrian opposition.

Syrian government forces and their Russian allies captured territory on the outskirts of Douma city on Saturday as they continued their offensive into the last rebel-controlled area in eastern Ghouta near the capital, Damascus.

Airstrikes killed eight civilians, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, raising the civilian death toll in Douma to 48 since the offensive began on Friday.

Read more: Syrian forces: Most of eastern Ghouta has been retaken

"The regime is trying to tighten the noose around Douma from the west, east, and south," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman. 

Retaliatory mortar shelling by the group in control of Douma, Jaysh al-Islam, killed six and injured dozens in Damascus, Syrian state media said.

Read more: Trump freezes Syria recovery funds amid rumors of early exit

Watch video 02:29

Rebel fighters are leaving Eastern Ghouta

Evacuations on hold

The offensive started after the evacuation of civilians and rebel fighters from Douma was halted on Thursday following a breakdown in talks between Jaysh and the Syrian government and Russia.

Unlike other opposition groups that had controlled territory in eastern Ghouta, Jaysh has resisted any talk of leaving Douma for rebel-controlled areas in northern Syria.

Hardliners within the group reportedly believe its fighters and their families are safer remaining where they are, alongside tens of thousands of civilians still holed up in Douma.

Read more: US ambassador Nikki Haley slams UN over Syrian ceasefire

Misery in eastern Ghouta

Syrian forces turned their sites on Douma after recapturing most of the wider eastern Ghouta area through a combination of ground assaults and Russia-brokered evacuation deals.

The one-time opposition stronghold near Damascus has remained out of Syrian President Bashar Assad's grip since 2012.

Recapturing the final stretch of rebel territory near Damascus would be the Syrian president's biggest victory since 2016 and underline his unassailable position, despite having been close to being toppled barely three years ago.

Read more: Turkish, Russian and Iranian leaders vow to protect Syria's territorial integrity

amp, mm/bw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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