Tuesday 11 December 2018

Civilians flee as regime troops move in on Ghouta

Syrian civil defence volunteers help wounded children to flee their homes in the town of Hamouria in Syria’s besieged eastern Ghouta following reported air strikes. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Syrian civil defence volunteers help wounded children to flee their homes in the town of Hamouria in Syria’s besieged eastern Ghouta following reported air strikes. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Sara Elizabeth Williams in Amman

Syrian troops and allied militia seized several villages in Eastern Ghouta over the weekend, in what appeared to be the start of a ground offensive to crush the besieged opposition stronghold.

Regime forces seized up to a quarter of the rebel-held enclave in fighting that sent hundreds of civilians fleeing, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said yesterday. Earlier, the Syrian armed forces said they had captured villages along the edge of the enclave.

More than 600 people have been killed and 2,000 injured since the Syrian regime launched an air and artillery bombardment of Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, on February 18.

The United Nations said yesterday that a 40-lorry convoy loaded with aid was denied permission to enter the besieged district, despite the escalation in violence.

"The convoy to east Ghouta is not able to proceed today," a UN official said, adding that the UN and its humanitarian partners "remain on standby to deliver desperately needed assistance as soon as conditions allow".

Just one small convoy with a month's worth of supplies for 7,200 people has been allowed to enter Ghouta so far this year, in mid-February.

The weekend offensive came as western governments called on allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to put pressure on Damascus to halt the attacks.

Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, yesterday called on his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani to put the "necessary pressure" on the Syrian government to halt "indiscriminate" attacks on civilians in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta.

During a telephone call between the two leaders, Mr Macron underscored the "particular responsibility for Iran, because of its ties to the regime, regarding the implementation of the humanitarian truce" sought by the UN, his office said.

Mr Macron is expected to visit Iran this year.

Nearly 400,000 people are believed to be trapped in Eastern Ghouta, an opposition-held suburb that has been under siege since 2013.

Violence there has escalated sharply over the past weeks despite a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire.

The Syrian army said it was firing on militant areas in the enclave in response to the targeting of Damascus, just 15km away.

But photographs, videos and first-hand accounts from inside the enclave suggest civilians, and especially children, are paying the highest price.

Regime forces dropped leaflets on Eastern Ghouta before the offensive on Saturday night, informing residents of safe spaces, humanitarian corridors and medical points.

Irish Independent

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