Syrian Regime Forces Break into Key Town in Eastern Ghouta

Syrian regime forces have broken into a key town in the beleaguered rebel enclave of eastern Ghouta amid heavy bombardment, a monitor has said as quoted by The Guardian.

“Regime forces assaulted Hamouriyah,” the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said on Wednesday, adding that the troops were able to control areas in the south of the enclave.

Russia-backed regime forces launched an assault on eastern Ghouta in February to retake the last opposition bastion outside Damascus. The offensive has split the enclave into three sections, each controlled by different rebels.

The area around Hamouriyah is controlled by the Faylaq al-Rahman faction. It has come under intense bombardment in recent days, according to an AFP correspondent in the area. On Wednesday, the correspondent saw a man in the doorway of a building holding the bodies of his two dead children.

More than 1,220 civilians have been killed in eastern Ghouta since 18 February.

The Russian defence ministry said on Wednesday a humanitarian ceasefire in Douma in eastern Ghouta was extended for two more days, San Francisco Chronicle reported. Children and people needing hospital treatment were being evacuated from the area.

The Russian Defense Ministry says the pause on Thursday and Friday is focused on the town of Douma. It claims the pause has allowed growing numbers of civilians to reach safety. Maj. Gen. Yuri Yevtushenko was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying 131 people left the area through the humanitarian corridor on Wednesday. Maj. Gen. Vladimir Zolotukhin says some 100 people are expected to be evacuated on Thursday.

Russia ordered the daily humanitarian pauses late last month, but few civilians have left. And activists said continued government shelling and airstrikes killed at least 20 civilians on Wednesday eastern Ghouta.

Yet, other sources quoted Syrian activists and monitoring groups saying government and Russian forces are blanketing the besieged rebel-held eastern Ghouta region with airstrikes and rocket fire. Thursday’s bombings come as Syria marks the seventh anniversary of the popular uprising that sparked the country’s vicious civil war.

The Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, says its first responders are not able to reach the wounded in towns in rebel-held eastern Ghouta because of the intensity of the assault. It says one of its rescue workers was killed in an airstrike in Hazeh on Thursday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group says a column of civilians trying to flee government advances in Hamouria were targeted with shelling early in the day that wounded several people. It said 26 people were killed in Hamouria on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, BBC reports that People in need of medical treatment have been evacuated from the besieged rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area on the outskirts of Syria’s capital, Damascus. Twenty-five patients and their families are believed to have left via a government checkpoint on Wednesday. Another 31 were evacuated on Tuesday as part of an agreement between a rebel group and the government’s ally Russia.

More than 1,100 civilians have been killed since pro-government forces stepped up an offensive a month ago. In recent days, dramatic advances by soldiers and militiamen have displaced thousands of civilians and cut the enclave into three pockets.

UN Secretary General António Guterres says the estimated 390,000 people trapped there are “living in a hell on earth”, forced to shelter from the bombardment in overcrowded basements where access to food, water and sanitation is limited.

The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), which supports a number of medical facilities in the Eastern Ghouta, said on Tuesday that at least 1,034 critically ill and wounded people were in need of medical evacuation. They included 77 “priority cases”. As a result of the agreement between Russia and the rebel group Jaysh al-Islam, which controls the northern pocket around the major town of Douma, at least 55 patients on the list are reported to have left during pauses in the fighting.

“So far the agreement is going well,” Yasser Delwan, Jaysh al-Islam’s head of political affairs, told Reuters news agency.

At the same time, New York Daily News quoted the International Committee of the Red Cross saying a joint convoy bringing aid to thousands of displaced Syrian families has entered the besieged rebel-held region of eastern Ghouta just outside of Damascus. It says the joint convoy organized with the United Nations and the Syria Red Crescent Society consists of 25 trucks.

The ICRC said in a Tweet on Thursday that “this is just a little of what these families need.” The convoy would be the second to get into Douma in a week but only the fourth to reach the Eastern Ghouta since November.

“This would be potentially a fairly large convoy with food and hopefully as much as possible of the other material that is in desperate need there, including medical supplies,” UN humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland told Reuters news agency.

The convoy is headed for the town of Douma, the largest and most populated in eastern Ghouta, according to Douma-based media activist Youssef Boustani. Previous aid deliveries last week were mired in violence that disrupted its distribution, with shells slamming in the town as the aid workers were inside.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and official Sana news agency later posted photos of civilians arriving at the government-controlled al-Wafideen checkpoint. Sana reported that they were then taken to reception centres.