Wednesday 23 May 2018

Army advance divides rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta

The bombardment of Eastern Ghouta continued yesterday. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
The bombardment of Eastern Ghouta continued yesterday. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Philip Issa in Beirut

Syrian government forces have divided the rebel Eastern Ghouta enclave outside Damascus into two, supporters of President Bashar al-Assad claimed yesterday.

The advance threatens to worsen an already dire humanitarian situation at the doors of the capital.

A military media outlet linked to the Syrian army and its Lebanese allies, the militant group Hezbollah, said pro-government forces broke through rebel lines to establish a corridor through the besieged region after capturing the town of Mudeira.

The advance cuts off the towns of Douma and Harasta from the rest of the enclave. Douma is Eastern Ghouta's largest settlement and residents and local authorities are considering evacuating the town, said local council member Iyad Abdelaziz.

"The idea of leaving was refused outright at first, but now with the regime advances and the siege that's been tightened, there are negotiations about something along those lines," Mr Abdelaziz said.

Government jets pounded Harasta last night according to Hezbollah's al-Manar TV station, which was broadcasting live from a lookout.

Hezbollah is one of several Shiite militias organised by Iran to support Mr al-Assad's forces and put down the rebellion sparked by the violent crackdown on anti-government demonstrations in 2011.

The government's advance followed 22 days of intensive ground and air assaults on rebels and civilians trapped inside the Ghouta enclave, which have killed over 1,100 people according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

At least 12 civilians died under shelling and airstrikes yesterday, according to the Observatory. The Ghouta Media Centre put the toll at 17 dead.

The Civil Defence search-and-rescue group, also known as the White Helmets, said the town of Arbeen was struck 44 times, killing nine people.

The Syrian military command claimed it had established a humanitarian corridor to allow civilians to leave but few have used it.

Residents are afraid of being conscripted into the army, or being detained arbitrarily or barred from returning to their homes.

"No one feels safe turning themselves over to the regime and hoping they will be treated as a regular citizen again," said Mr Abdelaziz.

Russia's military command said it was negotiating with rebels to let them leave but one faction, Faylaq al-Rahman, declared it will refuse to surrender or leave.

Residents have been crowding into basements with little food and water to shelter from the indiscriminate bombardment.

Irish Independent

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