Syria Army Cuts Off Main Town in Ghouta Rebel Enclave

Syria Army Cuts Off Main Town in Ghouta Rebel Enclave
Syria Army Cuts Off Main Town in Ghouta Rebel Enclave

Syrian government forces on Saturday cut off the largest town in Eastern Ghouta from the rest of the opposition enclave in a blow to rebels defending their last bastion near Damascus.

Government troops and allied forces have recaptured half of the besieged region in a blistering assault launched on February 18, AFP reported.

Government fighters seized control of the road linking Douma with the town of Harasta further west, and also captured the town of Misraba, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“Government forces have therefore divided Eastern Ghouta into three parts—Douma and its surroundings, Harasta in the west, and the rest of the towns further south,” the Britain-based monitor said.

Ghouta, under government siege since 2013, is the last remaining rebel-controlled zone on the outskirts of the capital.

Syrian state television on Saturday reported that the army had “intensified its operations... and was advancing in three main zones.”

Eastern Ghouta is home to around 400,000 people, in desperate need of humanitarian assistance after a five-year siege by rebels made food and medical aid exceedingly rare.

The rebels have also used the area and its proximity to Damascus as a launching pad for mortar attacks against population in the Syrian capital.

On Friday, a joint aid convoy of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent delivered food aid to hunger-stricken residents.

The delivery had been due to enter on Thursday but was delayed due to developments on the ground.

  Rebels Staging Chemical Attack

The Syrian Foreign Ministry has said that militants in Eastern Ghouta may stage a chemical attack, targeting several women, to blame Damascus for it.

“We’ve received information that militants in Eastern Ghouta are planning to stage a chemical attack between the villages of Misraba and Bitsawa. Militants from Tahrir al-Sham group intend to sacrifice several women and children and publish fake news. This “performance” may take place on March 11,” Syrian Deputy-Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said.

The report comes hours after first militants with members of their families were evacuated from the rebel-held district.

Syrian authorities have been repeatedly accused of using chemical weapons against civilians in the conflict that began in 2011.

On January 26, the White Helmets, a Syrian opposition civil defense group operating in militant-held areas, reported that three civilians had been killed and dozens more were wounded in a suspected chlorine gas attack on Eastern Ghouta.

The same day, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert accused Syrian authorities of staging this attack, which was vehemently rejected by Damascus.

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