Syrian Forces Attacking Eastern Ghouta 'Have Surrounded Rebels in Douma'
Albanian Daily News
Published March 10, 2018
Largest town in region reported to be cut off as government forces press their advantage
Syrian government forces have surrounded the largest town in the besieged enclave of eastern Ghouta, in a prelude to a possible ground assault that could further inflame a dire humanitarian crisis.
Forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad have essentially split off Douma from the rest of eastern Ghouta, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a day after a Red Cross and UN aid convoy arrived in the town to unload food supplies to thousands of civilians in desperate need. Douma was once one of the largest cities in Syria.
The report from the UK-based human rights group, which said both Douma and the smaller nearby town of Harasta were surrounded and cut off, was disputed by locals, but such an outcome seems inevitable in any event as the regime presses its advantage, backed by both Syrian and Russian airstrikes.
It also raises greater humanitarian concerns and fears for the lives of civilians living in the area, who have fled the government's advance.
More than 1,000 people have been killed in the last two weeks of violence in eastern Ghouta, which borders the capital Damascus, according to Medecins sans Frontieres, which has gathered data from hospitals in the area that it supports.
Local doctors said that between 49 and 65 people had died on Friday, and the near-ceaseless shelling that started on 19 February resumed on Saturday morning. Accurate figures for the dead are impossible to collate because many bodies remain trapped under the rubble of destroyed homes, and others are buried without being taken to hospitals.
The violence has continued despite a UN security council resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire and the delivery of humanitarian aid "without delay". 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.
Reports of chemical attacks that may have involved chlorine or organophosphorus have also emerged in recent days, despite warnings by western powers that use of chemical weapons might prompt them to intervene in the unfolding crisis.
The UN secretary general has described the situation in eastern Ghouta as "hell on earth" and the body's high commissioner for human rights described the military offensive as a "monstrous annihilation".
The bombardment and encirclement of Douma continued even as rebels in the enclave, which is home to at least 300,000 people, acceded to a key demand by Russia: the evacuation of a few hundred al-Qaida-linked fighters in the enclave.
In a statement on Twitter on Friday, Jaish al-Islam, one of the main factions in eastern Ghouta, said the decision had been taken in consultation with the UN, a number of international parties and civil society representatives from eastern Ghouta. A few fighters were evacuated in an initial batch.
Jaish al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman, two Islamist rebel groups, control most of the opposition-held areas of eastern Ghouta. 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.
Moscow had justified the continued bombardment of the area by saying extremists remained embedded in the towns and were preventing civilians from taking advantage of a designated evacuation corridor to flee the fighting.

(Source: The Guardian)

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