PHOTO: Appeal for help by women and children of Darayya, March 2016

The Syrian military and allied militias have advanced in the besieged town of Darayya, southwest of Damascus, after a 44-month siege and months of intense aerial and ground attacks.

Opposition fighters said on Monday that the pro-Assad forces advanced a half-kilometer (about one-third of a mile) into the town and control the eastern half of Darayya.

The fighters said the advance was enabled by two days of surface-to-surface missiles, mortars, and barrel bombs.

Abu Bilal a-Deirani, fighting with the Free Syrian Army’s Liwa Shuhada al-Islam, told Syria Direct, “As things stand now, we have very little equipment and have suffered massive casualties. There is a serious lack of both doctors and fighters.”

There are now fewer than 1,000 rebels from Liwa Shuhada al-Islam and the Islamist faction Ajnad a-Sham. More than 120 have died in fighting since last August, said a-Deirani.

Darayya and nearby Moadamiya have been cut off since November 2012. Moadamiya’s opposition agreed a truce in early 2014 after scores of civilians died of starvation, although it continues to be bombarded and besieged by the Syrian military.

Darayya has never reached an agreement with the pro-Assad forces.

The Syria Campaign said almost 750 barrel bombs were dropped on the suburb in June. A token shipment of food, the first since November 2012, was delivered in mid-June, but it was followed within hours by more attacks.

Regime officials authorities have offered rebels safe passage to another opposition-held Damascus area if they surrendered, but the approach was rejected.

The Syrian military then continued its advance, moving past the Abdel Nour mosque into the center of a rebel-held pocket on Sunday evening.

Ahrar al-Sham Warns Southern Front

An official in the leading rebel faction Ahrar al-Sham warned on Tuesday that the group will act against the Southern Front bloc if it fails to defend Darayaa.

Abu Azzam al-Ansari wrote on Twitter:

Every drop of blood spilled in Darayya is the responsibility of the leaders of Southern Front factions.

Either repent and fight today, or the mujahideen of Houran [region in southern Syria] will erupt against [you] in order not to share in [your] sin.

He warned, “Those who receive support and stop fighting are traitors and collaborators,” while admitting, “Maybe the day when we can save [Darayya] has passed,”