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Syrian regime troops launch ground offensive in Ghouta

The Syrian regime recommenced bombarding Eastern Ghouta on 18 February [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 March, 2018

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The military offensive in Ghouta has picked up despite a 30-day UN ceasefire and a Russian plan for daily five-hour 'truces'.

The Syrian regime launched a ground offensive on the edge of Eastern Ghouta as it seeks to retake territory - despite a 30-day UN ceasefire and a Russian plan for five-hour daily "truces", Reuters has reported.

The Wednesday assault targeted the Hawsh al-Dawahra area of Eastern Ghouta. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was a resumption of an earlier 25 February regime assault - in which rebels inflicted heavy losses on government troops.

One rebel official said the battle was a "back and forth" as rebels fought to repel a regime incursion.

The elite Tiger Force unit of the Syrian army was reportedly taking part in the ground assault in Eastern Ghouta.  

World leaders have called on Russia and Iran, the Assad regime's main backers, to pressure the Syrian government to implement the 30-day ceasefire passed at the UN on Saturday.

But the bombardment of Eastern Ghouta has continued, with the death toll now topping 600.

Without decisive international pressure, Eastern Ghouta is poised to follow a similar course as Eastern Aleppo - in which a heavy government assault backed by Russian airstrikes led to the city's recapture in 2016.

Russia and the Syrian regime has frequently cited the need to counter terrorism as a pretext for military offensives.

UN chief of political affairs Jeffrey Feltman said the scale of bombardment "cannot be justified on the basis of targeting Jabhat al-Nusra fighters", referring to an armed group which had been affiliated to al-Qaeda before splitting, with the major branch merging with several other Salafist jihadist groups and rebranding as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

"The airstrikes, shelling, and ground offensives continue. There are even reports of yet another chlorine gas attack," Feltman added.

In Harasta, a town in Eastern Ghouta that had until recently been in regime hands, residents returned to find graves in a Christian cemetery had been looted.

Meanwhile, civilians in Eastern Ghouta also shunned Russia's offer for them to evacuate the bieseged Damascus suburb.

Some 40 trucks stocked with aid are waiting for a lull in the violence in Eastern Ghouta. UN Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock said the trucks had been waiting to deliver aid since Saturday.

Recent satellite imagery shows that up to 71 percent of buildings in one Eastern Ghouta area have been damaged or destroyed due to the bombardment.

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