Air strikes continue in Syria's eastern Ghouta region despite ceasefire

Flames erupting in a building following regime bombardment in Douma, one of the few remaining rebel-held pockets in Eastern Ghouta, on March 23, 2018.
Flames erupting in a building following regime bombardment in Douma, one of the few remaining rebel-held pockets in Eastern Ghouta, on March 23, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

BEIRUT (REUTERS) - Air strikes hit a rebel-held enclave of Syria's eastern Ghouta region on Friday (March 23) despite a ceasefire that the rebel group who controlled the area had said would take effect at midnight, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The air strikes hit Ein Terma and Zamalka on Friday morning and pro-government forces had advanced into a large part of the town of Hezzeh after the midnight ceasefire deadline, according to the Britain-based Observatory, a war monitoring group.

On Thursday, a spokesman for rebel group Failaq al-Rahman said the ceasefire had been agreed in principle.

The army's assault on eastern Ghouta, the last major rebel bastion near the capital, has been one of the most intense in Syria's seven-year-old war.

The Syrian government and its Russian allies used tactics that had proved successful elsewhere in Syria since Moscow joined the war in 2015: lay siege to an area, bombard it, launch a ground assault and finally offer safe passage out to rebels who agree to leave with their families.

Eastern Ghouta's rebels still hold only the town of Douma, under the control of Jaish al-Islam, and another pocket that includes Ein Terma, Arbin and Zamalka, under the control of Failaq al-Rahman.

On Thursday, Ahrar al-Sham rebel fighters withdrew from what had been a third rebel-held enclave in eastern Ghouta, the town of Harasta. They were put on government buses and driven to an opposition-held area of northern Syria.

 

A second group of fighters is expected to leave Harasta on Friday.

The Observatory said air strikes also hit the Jaish al-Islam-controlled town of Douma on Friday and there were clashes on the ground between the rebels and pro-government forces.