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Syrian govt forces poised to slice eastern Ghouta in two

Syrian govt forces poised to slice eastern Ghouta in two


REUTERS
BEIRUT/AMMAN
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.
The government, backed in the war by Russia and Iran, is seeking to crush the last major rebel enclave near the capital in a ferocious campaign that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says has killed 915 civilians in the last 18 days, including 91 on Wednesday.
Rebels, who accuse the government of"scorched earth" tactics, said they were deploying more guerrilla-style ambushes in lost territory, trying to stop further advances.
"We came because of the intensity of the bombing," said Abu Mohammed, a 32-year-old famer who had left his cows, sheep and farm equipment to join thousands of others fleeing to Douma, further into the rebel enclave.
"It was a miracle that we made it here," he said, speaking of the heavy air strikes. As for his former home town of Beit Sawa:"It was totally destroyed. Burnt," he said.
Defeat in eastern Ghouta would mark the worst setback for rebels since the opposition was driven from eastern Aleppo in late 2016 after a similar campaign of siege, bombing and ground assaults.
The pro-Damascus commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the media, confirmed a report by the Observatory late on Wednesday that the enclave had effectively been sliced in two.
But Wael Alwan, the Istanbul-based spokesman for Failaq al-Rahman, one of the main rebel groups in eastern Ghouta, denied that the territory had been cut in half."No," he said in a text message when asked if the report was correct.
Another rebel spokesman, Hamza Birqadar of the Jaish al-Islam group, said in a tweet on Thursday that insurgents had regained some positions in a counter-attack.
The Observatory reported heavy fighting on several fronts. A military media unit run by the government's ally Hezbollah also reported that the army had taken the village of Hosh al-Ashari and a military base near Aftaris, both in the southern part of the enclave.
In northern Syria, rebels began to bombard two government-held villages besieged by insurgent forces, killing two children, the Observatory reported.
Plans to send an aid convoy to Ghouta on Thursday were postponed, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations said.
"Convoys need to come in with food and supplies - and the last convoy was only half unloaded," Henrietta Fore, executive director of the U.N. children's agency UNICEF, told Reuters.
The United Nations says 400,000 people are trapped in the towns and villages of eastern Ghouta. They have been under government siege for years and were already short of food and medicine before the assault.
"We are dying of hunger and our children are dying of hunger. Have pity on us," said a woman reached in Douma by a voice messaging service, who identified herself as Um Mahmoud.

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