Syrian Army seals off major eastern Ghouta towns

Larry Hoffman
March 11, 2018

Mohammad Adel, an antigovernment activist in Douma, said H.T.S. had endangered people in Eastern Ghouta, declared Muslims who disagree with the group nonbelievers, and soured residents on the other rebel groups.

The government forces advanced from the east and were now almost a mile away from forces on the western side of eastern Ghouta, cutting links between the rebels in northern and southern parts of the suburb.

Residents say they fear government retribution if they were to try and flee the area, or the possibility of being redrafted into the Syrian military and sent to fight on the frontline.

"It is very inhuman to do", he said, referring to the governments strategy to keep humanitarian aid from reaching trapped civilians.

An AFP correspondent inside Douma said shelling and air strikes were rocking the town on Saturday.

Eastern Ghouta is the last remaining opposition-controlled zone on the outskirts of the capital, and rebels there have regularly fired rockets onto Damascus.

Apart from Islamist groups such as Jaish al-Islam, militants from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), who are mostly linked to al-Qaeda, are also deployed there.

Syrian state television showed a massive plume of dark smoke rising behind houses and trees in Eastern Ghouta, with the sound of blasts in the background.

Such evacuation deals have been repeatedly agreed in Syria's seven-year war, most notably in the second city of Aleppo in late 2016.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian Federation, his main ally, said the campaign was needed to end rebel shelling of Damascus and to end the rule of Islamist insurgents over the area's civilians.

There were no medical supplies on board Friday's convoy, which was carrying food that aid workers were unable to distribute on Monday.

A negotiator from Hammuriyeh said a "civilian delegation" wanted to hold talks with the government to end the fighting in the area. ICRC spokeswoman Indy Sedky said the trucks crossed into eastern Ghouta yesterday "after getting security guarantees from all parties to make sure no incident will happen during the presence of our team" there.

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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