Syrian army intensifies assault on Eastern Ghouta, splits rebel stronghold

Syrian army intensifies assault on Eastern Ghouta, splits rebel stronghold

Almost 400,000 people have been trapped in Eastern Ghouta since 2013 when insurgents first took over control and the government began its offensive to oust the rebels.

The ferocious three-week assault on the last major rebel stronghold near Damascus has captured about half its area and killed 960 people, according to the Observatory.

The two largest groups are Jaish al-Islam and its rival Faylaq al-Rahman.

The roads connecting the towns to each other were all covered by army fire, the observatory said. Residents have spent weeks living underground in bomb shelters, suffering food shortages and a lack of medical supplies, with doctors saying they are overwhelmed by the number of wounded. It is hard for aid convoys to reach eastern Ghouta and the worldwide community is failing to intervene.

The aid was delivered as helicopters hovered overhead and warplanes targeted areas outside Douma, according to an AFP correspondent.

Despite two weeks of air strikes and artillery bombardment that have killed nearly 950 civilians, the main rebel groups have so far rejected Russian-brokered offers to evacuate civilians or any of their own fighters.

On February 24, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2401, which calls for a month-long ceasefire in Syria - especially eastern Ghouta - to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid. Any solution to the crisis will probably involve a partial evacuation of rebel fighters and perhaps civilians, in a deal similar to past surrender agreements between the government and rebels.

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Rebels deny this and say the area's inhabitants have not crossed into government territory because they fear persecution.

"We have no guarantees that the regime will protect the families that want to leave and that it won't send the men to the frontlines", he added.

He told journalists there had also been discussions for "500 fighters to hand over their weapons to the army".

According to the United Nations, some 400,000 people remain trapped in the area, which has been under siege for several years.

In January, activists claimed the Syrian forces used chlorine in an attack on the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, causing 21 people to suffer from breathing difficulties.

In January, Turkey began an offensive to oust the Kurdish YPG militia from the Afrin region in northern Syria, near the Turkish border.

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