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Evacuation of Eastern Ghouta wounded agreed upon: rebels

Local | 2018-03-12 12:22:00
Evacuation of Eastern Ghouta wounded agreed upon: rebels
(Zaman Al Wasl- Reuters)- Jaish al-Islam, one of the main rebel groups in Syria's eastern Ghouta, said Monday it had reached an agreement with the government's ally Russia to evacuate wounded people from the besieged enclave near Damascus.

It communicated with Russia through the United Nations to reach the agreement, it said, as the government presses a major offensive against the enclave with Russian military help.

Jaish al-Islam said that 40 regime troops were killed in al-Rihan battlefront as the savage bombardment continued on Eastern Ghouta leaving more than 1100 civilians, including 219 children, dead.

Sunday's death toll reached 53 as the regime army broke apart Ghouta, cutting off two major towns of Douma and Mudeira from the rest of the area, state media said, after a fierce battle waged under cover of an unrelenting bombardment.

State television on Sunday broadcast from the eastern Ghouta town of Mudeira, which state television and a war monitor said the army had captured to link up with units on the other side of the enclave.

A military media unit run by the Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, an ally of the Syrian government, said the army had also entirely surrounded the town of Douma.

Footage showed several massive plumes of smoke in the distance behind a war-ravaged townscape with big holes in walls and roofs, and yet more smoke wafting across the streets. The sound of blasts could be heard.

More than 1,100 civilians have been killed in the onslaught on the biggest rebel stronghold near Damascus since it began three weeks ago with a withering bombardment, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

It said there was intense fighting on several fronts accompanied by a government artillery barrage, continuous air raids and attacks by helicopters.

The advance on Mudeira, after the capture of the neighboring town of Mesraba on Saturday, has driven a wedge deep inside the insurgent territory, leaving the major towns of Douma and Harasta cut off.

Eastern Ghouta is the last remaining opposition-controlled zone on the outskirts of the capital, and rebels there have regularly fired rockets onto Damascus.

Eastern Ghouta is home to around 400,000 people, living under a five-year siege that has made food and medical aid exceedingly rare.

Rebel groups in eastern Ghouta have vowed they will fight on. A statement issued by Free Syrian Army factions there late on Saturday said they had taken a decision not to accept a surrender and negotiated withdrawal.

After the army advances split up the enclave, Jaish al-Islam emerged as the strongest group in the town of Douma, Ahrar al-Sham in the town of Harasta and Failaq al-Rahman in the new southern pocket of eastern Ghouta.

Syrian state media also reported army advances near Jisreen and Aftaris in the southeastern part of the rebel-held territory.

Bashar al-Assad and his ally Russia see the rebels as terrorist groups, and say their offensive is needed to end the rebels’ rule over eastern Ghouta’s large population.

But the violence of their assault has prompted condemnation from Western countries and repeated calls by United Nations aid agencies for a humanitarian ceasefire.

Activists and fighters in eastern Ghouta in recent days have said the bombardment has included incendiary material that causes fires and burn injuries. Local doctors have also reported several incidents of bomb attacks followed by the smell of chlorine and choking symptoms.

The regime television reported on Sunday that rebel mortar fire had killed four people after hitting a taxi. Assad has sworn to end insurgent shelling of the capital.

Defeat in eastern Ghouta would deliver the rebels their biggest blow since December 2016, when a government offensive drove them from Aleppo, their largest urban stronghold.

Backed by Russian war planes and other military assistance since 2015, Assad has gained momentum on several fronts across the country, driving rebels from numerous pockets and recapturing swathes of the east from Islamic State.

But he is still far from regaining control over the entire country. Rebel groups hold large areas of the northwest and southwest, while northeastern Syria is in the hands of Kurdish fighters and allied militias.

Meanwhile, the increasingly global nature of the war means that military attempts to regain several of those areas could pit Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers against forces that are also directly supported by powerful foreign countries. (With Agecnies)
Reuters
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