Air strikes hit Syria's rebel-held Douma, first in 10 days

State news agency SANA said Syrian air strikes hit the town on Friday in response to deadly rebel mortar fire from Douma.

The Syrian forces launched their offensives on Douma from the Rehan farmland area east of Douma and the town of Mesraba southwest of Douma, it added.

The offensive to reclaim Douma, the last pocket of resistance in the suburbs surrounding Damascus, also followed talks between Turkey, Russia and Iran, on Syria.

Syrian state media denied launching chemical attacks as soon as the reports began circulating. State media said the rebels were responsible for the Damascus shelling.

The Observatory also said shell attacks on the city of Damascus killed four people on Friday.

Moscow announced a deal with Jaish Al Islam last Sunday, ushering in three consecutive days of evacuations from Douma that saw almost 3,000 fighters and civilians taken in buses to Idlib, northern Syria.

Violence resumed in and around Douma Friday afternoon after the main rebel group in the town placed new conditions on an evacuation deal that saw hundreds of fighters and civilians leave earlier this week.

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People look at the damage in the aftermath of an explosion in a rebel-held area of the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib on January 8, 2018. The group wants to remain in Douma and none of the fighters have left, according to Mohammad Alloush, a representative for Jaish al-Islam.

The regime and its ally Russian Federation launched a blistering air and ground offensive on Eastern Ghouta in mid-February, killing more than 1,600 civilians and causing an worldwide outcry.

The regime has used a combination of a fierce military onslaught and two negotiated withdrawals to empty out 95 percent of the enclave, but rebels are still entrenched in its largest town of Douma.

But as talks dragged on, Syria and its Russian ally threatened Jaish al-Islam with a renewed military assault if they did not agree to withdraw.

Maj. Gen. Yuri Yevtushenko, head of the Russian center for reconciliation of the warring parties in Syria, said that "as a result of sharp opposition among the odious militants and those who were prepared to participate in the negotiations process, the former leaders of the group (known as) Abu Humam, Abu Omar and Abu Ali were physically removed". A spokesman for his office, however, said an operation against Tel Rifat might not be needed.

SANA said on Friday that 50,000 of the people of Eastern Ghouta returned to their homes.

Syrian state media is reporting that a bomb has exploded near a mosque in the capital Damascus killing one person and wounding six others. The Observatory says the attack has killed more than 1,600 civilians.

  • Sonia Alvarado