Syrian government forces pressed their offensive against the last rebel-held town in eastern Ghouta near the capital Damascus on Saturday under the cover of airstrikes on civilian areas in the besieged last area of Ghouta.
Syrian government forces resumed their offensive on rebel-held Douma on Friday afternoon after a 10-day truce collapsed over disagreement regarding evacuation of opposition fighters. Violence resumed days after hundreds of opposition fighters and their relatives left Douma toward rebel-held areas in northern Syria.
A reporter for Lebanon’s Al-Manar TV embedded with Syrian troops near Douma said government forces advanced toward Douma from the towns of Misraba and Madiara that were recently captured by troops. Al-Manar TV is run by Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia that has sent thousands of fighters to Syria to back government forces.
The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said government forces captured several farms Saturday on the southern and western edges of the city that is home to tens of thousands of people. SCMM said the area controlled by the Army of Islam in and around Douma is 19 square kilometers (7.3 square miles).
The group said its fighters repelled all government attacks that began Friday, adding that 17 Syrian soldiers were killed.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the bombardment of Douma killed eight people and wounded 48, including 15 children.
Some opposition activists in Douma posted photographs of people wearing gas masks saying that government forces are shelling the town with poison gas. State media denied the reports saying “such farces about chemical weapons” were triggered by the troops’ quick push toward Douma.A deal was reached last month to evacuate Douma but activists and state media reported that the Army of Islam group demanded amendments to the deal.The Observatory said the Russian response to the Army of Islam with a list of demands including handing over heavy weapons within three days that should be followed by handing over light weapons and in return government forces will withdraw from the outskirts of Douma within a week.The Observatory also said that the Russians promised the rebels that once they hand over their weapons, airstrikes would stop. It added that fighters who hand over their weapons can join a local police force that will be established in Douma mostly consisting of Army of Islam members who will be given Russians weapons to fight members of the Daesh and Al-Qaeda-linked fighters.Army of Islam Military spokesman Hamza Bayraqdar told The Associated Press by text message, “the Russians are making humiliating demands that mean surrender and handing over the area. This is something that we categorically reject.”Russia’s military said the Army of Islam has forced out leaders who were taking part in negotiations to withdraw from Douma and that their fighters have resumed attacks.
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