Syrian government forces poised to slice eastern Ghouta in two - commander

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

A convoy entered the town of Douma in Syria's besieged rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta enclave near Damascus on Friday and delivered the remaining aid that could not be offloaded earlier this week due to insecurity and fighting there, the Red Cross said.

Eastern Ghouta, which is home to some 400,000 people, has witnessed deadly violence over the past few days, with foreign-sponsored terrorists launching mortar attacks on the Syrian capital in the face of an imminent humiliating defeat.

The army liberated a road linking the town of Douma with Harasta further west, and also freed the town of Misraba, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The situation in the militant-held region escalated last month after government forces launched an operation dubbed "Damascus Steel", in a bid to clear the region of militants.

The Turkish government has entered the area because it says the Kurdish militia holding the territory - the People's Protection Units (YPG) - are an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has fought for Kurdish autonomy in south-eastern Turkey for three decades.

Damascus and Moscow accuse the insurgents of shooting at civilians to prevent them fleeing. It is hard for aid convoys to reach eastern Ghouta and the worldwide community is failing to intervene.

Robert Mardini, Middle East director of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said it had been "taken aback by the fighting that broke out despite guarantees".

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Medical charities operating in eastern Ghouta have reported several incidents in recent weeks of what they say was chlorine gas use in government bombardments, causing choking symptoms.

In mid-February, President Bashar al-Assad's government stepped up its assault on the area.

Tens of thousands of people have fled further into the enclave in the face of the warfare, a United Nations official said on Thursday, and residents of Douma said shelters were crowded with the new arrivals. The roads connecting the towns to each other were all covered by army fire, the Observatory said. "So Ghouta will gain by finishing with these people".

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

In a statement on Twitter on Friday, Jaish al-Islam, one of the main factions in eastern Ghouta, said the decision had been taken in consultation with the United Nations, a number of global parties and civil society representatives from eastern Ghouta.

It said the initiative was "based on consultations between Jaish al-Islam and the United Nations, and a number of global actors".

The Observatory and the opposition's Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, reported that airstrikes and shelling resumed late Friday afternoon on eastern Ghouta.

  • Sonia Alvarado