Syrian state troops press deep into rebel territory

Aaron Brown
March 11, 2018

Jaish al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman, two Islamist rebel groups, control most of the opposition-held areas of eastern Ghouta.

The limited operation came as the powerful Jaish al-Islam said HTS fighters would be evacuated to the northern province of Idlib, in an arrangement struck following consultations with the United Nations and other worldwide players.

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.

Late on Friday, a small number of fighters and their families from the former al Qaeda affiliate previously known as the Nusra Front left eastern Ghouta under such a deal.

The food was supposed to be delivered on Monday when a previous convoy entered Douma, but fighting forced it to leave early without unloading fully.

Government troops and allied militia have recaptured half of the besieged region in a blistering assault launched on February 18 that has prompted a global outcry.

However, UN agencies said most medical supplies had been stripped from the convoy by Syrian government officials and added that the food supplies brought in were insufficient.

"Shelling in proximity of Douma (in) eastern Ghouta today is putting the. convoy at risk", said United Nations resident coordinator Ali al-Za'tari said.

In the town of Hammuriyeh, dozens of people took part in a protest calling for an end to the bloodshed, the Britain-based Observatory said.

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Jaish al-Islam is one of the main insurgent factions in eastern Ghouta.

Syria's army is poised to slice rebel-held eastern Ghouta in two as forces advancing from the east link up with troops at its western edge, a pro-Damascus commander said on Thursday.

Image copyright EPA Image caption The first 13 were said to have been transported out using the Syrian government designated al-Wafidden corridor Who are the rebel groups?

According to the agency, the militants continue shelling the evacuation passages of al-Wafideen and Jisreen, preventing civilians from leaving the terrorist-held area.

The charity said 15 of the 20 medical facilities it supports in Eastern Ghouta have been hit by air strikes or shelling. It said the lull was result of local negotiations brokered by unnamed Damascus businessmen with the government to try and reach a solution that would secure the exit of fighters and civilians from eastern Ghouta.

A spokesman for one of the rebel groups, however, told Reuters that neither Harasta nor Douma were cut off.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said the United Nations has "failed spectacularly" when it comes to Syria.

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

Other reports by Free-Prsite

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