Regime forces advance in Syria's battered Ghouta

BEIRUT • Syrian regime forces have advanced inside Eastern Ghouta, a monitor said yesterday, as fighting intensifies on the ground to retake the battered rebel enclave east of Damascus.

Russia-backed government forces on Feb 18 launched an assault on the besieged region, pounding the area with air strikes and killing more than 630 civilians.

On Feb 25, clashes on the ground between the armed opposition and regime forces intensified on the edges of the enclave, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

Since Thursday, regime forces have advanced inside the region, retaking an area in the enclave's south-east, as well as another area and two military bases in the south from main opposition group Jaish al-Islam.

"Regime forces and their allies have intensified their attacks on rebel positions in the past 48 hours," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Government fighters are trying to advance inside Eastern Ghouta to cut off the main town of Douma and its surroundings in the north of the enclave, and isolate the south-eastern area of Al-Marj, Mr Abdel Rahman said.

The Observatory says that "Russian advisers" are taking part in the battles alongside regime forces in Eastern Ghouta, backed by heavy air strikes and shelling.

Since Feb 25, 60 regime and allied fighters have been killed, while 34 rebels from Jaish al-Islam have also died, it said.

It also said Turkish warplanes struck pro-regime government forces in the north-western Afrin region of Syria yesterday, killing at least 36 of them.

According to the Observatory, this was the third time in 48 hours that Turkish warplanes had struck pro-government forces that entered Afrin last week in support of the Kurdish YPG militia as it fights to stave off an offensive by Turkey and allied Syrian militias.

Rebels today control only a third of the area in Eastern Ghouta that they held in 2012, as regime forces have gradually taken back territory from them.

Eastern Ghouta's 400,000 residents have lived under regime siege since 2013, facing severe food and medicine shortages even before the latest offensive.

The ground offensive coincides with the start of a five-hour daily "humanitarian pause" announced by Russia and in force since Tuesday.

The bombardment had lessened but continued to claim lives since, and trucks loaded with desperately needed aid have remained unable to enter the enclave.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 04, 2018, with the headline 'Regime forces advance in Syria's battered Ghouta'. Print Edition | Subscribe