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Syrian forces continue eastern Ghouta onslaught

March 11, 2018

Syrian forces and rebel groups have engaged in fierce fighting on several fronts in eastern Ghouta. Reports suggest a delegation from the opposition-held town of Hammuriyeh is considering an evacuation deal.

Destroyed buildings are seen after Assad regime airstrikes hit residential areas in eastern Ghouta
Image: picture alliance/AA/A. Sab

Syrian government troops and rebel forces clashed on multiple fronts in eastern Ghouta on Sunday, a day after the military effectively splintered the rebel-held enclave into three parts and isolated the region's largest town of Douma.

The regime's divide-and-conquer strategy saw troops cut off the road linking Douma with the enclave's largest town, Harasta.

Read more: Opinion: Hell on earth rages in Syria's eastern Ghouta, while the world watches

"Regime forces have therefore divided eastern Ghouta into three parts — Douma and its surroundings, Harasta in the west, and the rest of the towns further south," according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based monitor.

The military's indiscriminate 20-day onslaught on eastern Ghouta, the last rebel-held region on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus, has left more than 1,100 civilians dead, around a quarter of which were children. More than 4,000 more have been wounded.

The military's devastating advance, backed by Russian air power, has attracted international condemnation. However, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has insisted the campaign is necessary to root out Islamist terrorists from the region.

The besieged areas' two main rebel groups, Failaq al-Rahman and Jaish al-Islam, have vowed to resist the Syrian army's offensive, despite having lost more than half of eastern Ghouta's territory to the Syrian regime in just under three weeks of heavy combat.

Meanwhile, aid agencies have struggled to deliver food and medical supplies to the roughly 400,000 people still living in the region.

Read more: Which rebel groups are fighting in Syria's eastern Ghouta?

Hammuriyeh delegation plans evacuation deals

Reports on Sunday suggested that a committee from the opposition-held eastern Ghouta town of Hammuriyeh had met with regime officials to negotiate an evacuation deal.

"The committee discussed a proposed reconciliation that would guarantee exit for those that want to leave, both civilians and rebels, from Hammuriyeh to other areas in Syria under rebel control," a member from the opposition delegation told the Agence France-Presse news agency on condition of anonymity.

Map of Damascus' eastern Ghouta

A decision was expected later on Sunday, the committee member added.

The Syrian Observatory said that several other towns were considering a similar evacuation deal with the regime on Sunday. "A decision could be taken any moment for Hammuriyeh, Jisreen, and Saqba," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

However, Failaq al-Rahman, the rebel faction that controls Hammuriyeh, denied it was engaged in evacuation talks.

Read more: UN says Syrian actions in eastern Ghouta may amount to crimes against humanity

"There are no direct or indirect negotiations with the Russian enemy or its allies," Failaq al-Rahman spokesman Wael Alwan said. "No one has been authorized to negotiate on behalf of Ghouta's revolutionaries, institutions, or the Free Syrian Army."

On Friday, 13 fighters from the Nusra Front, al-Qaida's former Syrian arm, were allowed to leave eastern Ghouta with their families after striking a deal with the Assad regime.

'Hell on Earth': Eastern Ghouta

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dm/jlw (AFP, AP)