Intensive Russian bombing enables advance in eastern part of opposition area


UPDATE 1655 GMT: A UN humanitarian convoy will not enter East Ghouta as planned on Sunday.

“The convoy to east Ghouta is not able to proceed today,” a UN official said.

The UN said on Friday that it had preliminary agreement from the Assad regime, which has blocked all but two small deliveries to East Ghouta since last summer.

UPDATE 1645 GMT: White Helmets rescuers retrieve bodies of children from streets in Douma after pro-Assad bombardment of civilian neighborhoods:

After a tightening five-year siege and months of escalating attacks, with thousands of civilian casualties, a pro-Assad ground offensive has broken through in East Ghouta near Syria’s capital Damascus.

Supported by regime and Russian airstrikes defying both a “de-escalation zone” and a UN resolution for a ceasefire, the offensive had been met by stiff rebel resistance. But on Saturday pro-Assad outlets claimed — and rebels acknowledged — a significant advance on the eastern side of the territory. This included control of the Hawsh al-Dawahra area and capture of towns such as an-Nashabiyah, Hazrama, Otaya, and Shafouniyeh, which had been targeted by a claimed chlorine attack as well as conventional strikes in the past three weeks.

Overnight gains were enabled by intense Russian bombing. Despite rebel claims that 150 pro-Assad troops were killed, others said the situation was critical.

“Save Us, Please”

The pro-Assad attacks surged in early February and again from February 18, with almost 1,000 civilians killed and more than 4,000 wounded. The UN unanimously passed a Security Council resolution for a 30-day ceasefire on February 24, but only after Russia watered it down so it would not be implemented, let alone enforced.

See Mass Killings and A Humanitarian Crisis: Welcome to Syria’s East Ghouta

The opposition has held East Ghouta since 2012, with the Assad regime soon imposing a siege. Aided by rebel in-fighting and a tightening of the blockade, the regime and its allies took about half of the area in spring 2017; however, more than 350,000 people remained in opposition towns such as Douma.

The leading rebel factions in East Ghouta are Jaish al-Islam and Failaq al-Rahman. Russia and the Assad regime are justifying their assault by falsely claiming that “Jabhat al-Nusra”, formerly linked to Al Qa’eda, has a significant presence.

Sisters Noor and Alaa, who have highlighted East Ghouta’s situation on social media, report:

Turkish-Rebel Force Continues Advance in Kurdish Canton of Afrin

The offensive by Turkey and the Free Syrian Army has taken more territory in the Kurdish canton of Afrin, a day after claiming the town of Raju and surrounding the town of Jinderes.

Latest reports indicate the Turkish-FSA force, which launched its ground offensive on January 20, has taken Sheikh Hadid and the village of Baflioun, only 12 km (7.5 miles) from the boundary of Afrin city.

After slow but steady progress in its offensive in the first six weeks, the Turkish-rebel advance has quickened in recent days, with the Kurdish militia YPG struggling amid the cutting of its supply lines.

The offensive has secured all of northwest Syria along the Turkish border as well as capturing the high ground leading to the eventual takeover of Raju and imminent move into Jinderes.