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The New Arab

Syrian forces prepare to retake army base besieged by rebels

Around 400,000 people are believed to be trapped in the besieged area [Getty]

Date of publication: 3 January, 2018

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Syrian rebel forces have taken control of the Military Vehicles Administration base against a backdrop of regime victories against opposition fighters.

Syrian regime forces backed by Russian jets have escalated efforts to break the siege on the last opposition-held area on the eastern outskirts of Damascus.

Residents said on Wednesday that the army was amassing elite forces in preparation of a major assault operation on the Military Vehicles Administration, held by rebel forces.

Nearly 200 troops are believed to be trapped in the high-level security grounds.

Rebel forces, mainly belonging to the Islamist Ahrar al Sham faction, have increased their control on parts of the army base in Harasta in eastern Ghouta. Last November rebels stormed the base in a bid to relieve pressure on the besieged town of eastern Ghouta.

Syrian state media reported that "terrorists" had fired mortars on residential areas in Harasta which was responded to by the army shelling eastern Ghouta.

Since Friday, 38 civilians have been killed and at least 147 people have been injured. Five civilians were killed on Tuesday.

The setback comes against a backdrop of a number of victories by the Syrian army who have depended heavily on Russian air force and Iranian ground backing in the last year in order to regain lost territory from rebel forces.

More than 30 airstrikes hit residential areas in Eastern Ghouta on Tuesday said residents.

"The frontlines of Ghouta are witnessing battles and clashes and big losses inflicted on (Syrian President) Assad's forces and his militias," said Hamza Biriqdar, the spokesman for Jaish al Islam, a main rebel faction told Reuters.

Eastern Ghouta is one of the last remaining opposition strongholds in Syria. Recent weeks have seen an increase in violence and aid groups have expressed "grave" concerns over the deteriorating situation in the region.

Around 400,000 people are believed to be trapped in the besieged area, with the UN having previously appealed for the Assad regime to allow the evacuation of around 500 priority patients.

Russian and Syrian air strikes have allowed the Syrian army and its allies to retake over 50 villages in the last week. Tens of thousands of villagers have been forced to flee to Idlib as aerial bombardment is intensified.

The Syrian regime was driven out of Idlib province in 2015 by a coalition of opposition fighters, which collapsed this summer after Fatah al-Sham Front launched an offensive against rebel allies.

The Syrian conflict began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by Assad, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings, triggering an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army.

The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.

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