Syr­ian troops cut off ma­jor road to Da­m­as­cus sub­urbs

Op­po­si­tion fighters have vowed not to sur­ren­der.

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Bassem Mroue

BEIRUT — Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces suc­ceeded Satur­day in their deep­est push yet into the east­ern sub­urbs of the cap­i­tal Da­m­as­cus, cut­ting off a ma­jor high­way that made it hard to move be­tween three parts of the rebel-held area, and in­flict­ing a ma­jor blow to op­po­si­tion fighters who have vowed not to sur­ren­der.

Syr­ian state me­dia and an op­po­si­tion mon­i­tor­ing group said gov­ern­ment forces have laid siege on the rebel-held town of Harasta, cut­ting it off from the rest of the sub­urbs known as east­ern Ghouta.

Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said gov­ern­ment forces have also cut off the main high­way that links north­ern Ghouta with its south­ern parts, iso­lat­ing the town of Douma, the largest in the area.

The gov­ern­ment-con­trolled Syr­ian Cen­tral Mil­i­tary Me­dia said troops cap­tured the Ki­lani gas sta­tion on the main high­way link­ing Douma with Harasta and those two ar­eas with the rest of east­ern Ghouta. Res­i­dents will have to rely on un­paved roads to move in east­ern Ghouta but that is dif­fi­cult be­cause of the in­ten­sity of shelling and airstrikes, ac­tivists said.

“The regime has cut Ghouta into three parts by cut­ting the main roads link­ing them,” said the Ob­ser­va­tory’s chief Rami Ab­dur­rah­man.

The gov­ern­ment and its Rus­sian back­ers, de­ter­mined to wrest east­ern Ghouta from rebel con­trol af­ter seven years of war, re­cently in­ten­si­fied the shelling and bom­bard­ment to clear the way for its troops to ad­vance on the ground. Nearly 1,000 peo­ple have been killed in the past three weeks of re­lent­less bom­bard­ment.

SCMM said troops on Satur­day reached the cen­ter of the town of Misraba, adding that op­po­si­tion fighters are crum­bling amid the of­fen­sive. Syr­ian state TV aired live footage from in­side the town and say­ing that troops are less than 0.6 miles from troops on the western side. Reach­ing them would phys­i­cally cut north­ern parts of east­ern Ghouta from its south­ern parts.

“The Syr­ian Arab Army sol­diers march­ing from three sides could meet soon,” said Rabih Dibi, a re­porter with state-run Ikhbariyah TV in his re­port from Misraba.

TV footage later showed dozens of men, women and chil­dren crowded in an un­der­ground base­ment in Misraba af­ter troops cap­tured the area. The TV sta­tion said au­thor­i­ties will move the nearly 60 peo­ple to a safe lo­ca­tion where they will be given shel­ter and food.

“Once you came in we felt well,” said one of the women in the base­ment. Another man said there were 15 fam­i­lies in the base­ment who have been hid­ing for days.

Ikhbariyah re­ported that gov­ern­ment forces and their al­lies cap­tured farms out­side the vil­lage of Aftris and are now march­ing to­ward the vil­lage. It added that troops are also mov­ing to­ward the town of Jis­reen on the south­ern edge of east­ern Ghouta.

The Ob­ser­va­tory re­ported that troops are ad­vanc­ing un­der the cover of at­tacks by war­planes and heli­copter gun­ships and con­firmed that gov­ern­ment forces cap­tured large parts of Misraba.

“The bomb­ing is so in­tense. War­planes haven’t left the skies for 24 hours,” op­po­si­tion ac­tivist Anas al-Di­mashqi said via text mes­sages from the rebel-held town of Kfar Batna. “The ad­vance is the re­sult of a scorched earth pol­icy.”

Syria’s deputy for­eign min­is­ter Faisal Mek­dad de­nied in a news con­fer­ence held in Da­m­as­cus op­po­si­tion charges that gov­ern­ment forces used poi­son gas in their at­tacks on east­ern Ghouta.

Mek­dad added that in­sur­gents groups in the east­ern Ghouta are pre­par­ing “to fab­ri­cate” more such at­tacks to blame the Syr­ian army.

Maj.-Gen. Vladimir Zolo­tukhin, of the Rus­sian cen­ter for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion of the war­ring par­ties in Syria, said Satur­day ne­go­ti­a­tions were be­ing con­ducted about the with­drawal of rebel fighters from Syria’s be­sieged East Ghouta. He said rebel ar­tillery fire from East Ghouta hit res­i­den­tial ar­eas of the cap­i­tal Da­m­as­cus and its sub­urbs, killing at least one per­son.

“Tense ne­go­ti­a­tions con­tinue be­tween rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Cen­ter ... lead­ers of the il­le­gal armed for­ma­tions of the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion in order to reach an agree­ment on the with­drawal of the se­cond line of mil­i­tants from the zone of de-es­ca­la­tion of East Ghouta,” he said, ac­cord­ing to Rus­sian news agen­cies.


This frame grab from video pro­vided by Syr­ian rebels that is con­sis­tent with AP re­port­ing shows flames ris­ing from a Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces airstrike in east­ern Ghouta, a sub­urb of Da­m­as­cus, on Fri­day.

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