Government forces continue to make progress as death toll rises
DOUMA, Syria - Government forces continued their offensive in Eastern Ghouta on Sunday, a day after they cut off the rebel-held enclave's largest town, pressing on with a 20-day assault that has left more than 1,000 civilians dead, according to a UK-based watchdog.
Government troops and allied militia launched their military campaign for Eastern Ghouta on Feb 18 and have captured more than half of the area in recent days, as part of an ongoing wide-scale offensive to dislodge the rebels from that key area on the eastern rim of Damascus.
The assault has eaten away at rebel-held territory, and government forces on Saturday successfully isolated Ghouta's main town of Douma in a blow to the rebels.
Government fighters cut off a road linking Douma with the town of Harasta further west and also captured the town of Misraba, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
"Regime forces have therefore divided Eastern Ghouta into three parts - Douma and its surroundings, Harasta in the west, and the rest of the towns further south," the United Kingdom-based monitor said.
Shelling and airstrikes slammed into Douma on Saturday, trapping residents inside their basements for hours, AFP's correspondents said.
Rescue workers and medics were struggling to navigate the town's rubble-littered roads to bring wounded residents back to field clinics.
At least 20 civilians - including four children - were killed in Douma on Saturday, in addition to 17 civilians in other battlefront towns, said the SOHR.
The deaths raised the assault's total toll to 1,031 civilians, including 219 children, according to the SOHR. More than 4,350 have been wounded.
Eastern Ghouta, a 105 sq km agricultural region consisting of several towns and farmlands, poses the last threat to the capital due to its proximity to government-controlled neighborhoods east of Damascus and their ongoing mortar attacks that target residential areas in the capital.
Meanwhile, teams from the International Committee of the Red Cross, Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the UN said they had delivered urgently-needed aid despite ongoing fighting extremely close to the humanitarian convoy.
The teams delivered 2,400 food parcels that can sustain 12,000 people for one month, as well as 3,248 bags of flour, the ICRC said in a statement.
The delivery was part of a convoy that could not be fully unloaded on March 5 due to the security situation.