Eastern Ghouta: Syrian army splits enclave in three, reports say

Destroyed streets in rebel-held Douma, Eastern GhoutaImage copyright
EPA

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Douma, the biggest town in Eastern Ghouta, is said to be cut off by Syrian government forces

The Syrian army has made a significant advance in its effort to take rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, reports say.

Troops have cut off the biggest town in the region, Douma, and isolated another, conflict monitors the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The advance would effectively split the region into three parts.

The Syrian government began a major offensive last month to re-take Eastern Ghouta, the last major rebel-held area near the capital Damascus.

Since then they have reportedly taken control of half of the region, an advance that is thought to have left more than 900 civilians dead.

What’s happening on the ground?

A clear strategy of the Syrian government’s offensive in Eastern Ghouta has been to divide the enclave into isolated sections and so cut off rebel support and supply networks, the BBC’s Arab Affairs editor Sebastian Usher says – and now the government appears to have all but achieved that goal.

The Syrian government has reportedly captured the central town of Misraba, and advanced onwards into surrounding farmland.

Misraba is located along a major road that links Douma, in the north, with another big town, Harasta, in the west.

If confirmed, the advance leaves the enclave divided into three – Douma and its surrounding towns in the north, western Harasta, and the rest of the territory in the south.

Syrian state television also said the army had splinted Eastern Ghouta, but a spokesman for one of the main rebel groups told Reuters neither Harasta nor Douma were cut off.

Meanwhile an opposition website said that a group of fighters from the jihadists Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) arrived in central Hama province from Eastern Ghouta, a day after an evacuation deal was reached.

On Friday a UN convoy was able to successfully deliver aid to Eastern Ghouta, after previous deliveries were halted by shelling.

Some 400,000 people are still thought to live in the area, seven years into Syria’s civil war. It has been besieged by government forces since 2013.

Who are the rebels?

The rebels in Eastern Ghouta are not one cohesive group. They encompass multiple factions, including jihadists, and in-fighting between them has led to past losses of ground to the Syrian government.

The two largest groups are Jaish al-Islam and its rival Faylaq al-Rahman. The latter has in the past fought alongside HTS.

Media captionA short guide to the Syrian civil war

Eastern Ghouta is so close to Damascus that it is possible for rebels to fire mortars into the heart of the capital, which has led to scores of civilian deaths.

The Syrian government is desperate to regain the territory, and has said its attempts to recapture it can be attributed directly due to the HTS presence there. HTS was excluded from a ceasefire agreed at the UN that has yet to come into effect.

The group is an alliance of factions led by the Nusra Front, which sprang from al-Qaeda.

Image copyright
AFP/SANA

Image caption

Syrian state media showed what it described as rebel fighters being evacuated from Eastern Ghouta

Eastern Ghouta: Syrian army splits enclave in three, reports say}

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