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Syrian forces advance against Ghouta rebels

12 March 2018

The assault on Eastern Ghouta has been one of the most ferocious of Syria's civil war, which a monitoring group said Monday had now left more than 350,000 dead in seven years.

The advance on Mudeira, after the capture of the neighbouring town of Misraba on Saturday, has driven a wedge deep inside rebel territory, leaving the major towns of Douma and Harasta cut off.

"In the southern East Ghouta pocket area, the Syrian Army has, following the very recent seizure of Aftris, ceased operations for the time being to allow for the safe withdrawal of civilians and surrendering insurgent fighters into the custody of government forces". But Faylaq al-Rahman, one of the two main rebel groups in the region, issued a statement rejecting the prospect of an exit, the AP said.

Sunday's advance split the Eastern Ghouta suburbs in two, with one side measuring 8 square miles (22 square kilometers) and the other 10 square miles (27 square kilometers), the AP said.

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The United States pushed the United Nations Security Council on Monday to demand a ceasefire in Damascus and rebel-held eastern Ghouta, where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces say they are targeting "terrorist" groups who are shelling the capital. "There's an very bad lot of reports about chlorine gas use or about symptoms that could be resulting from chlorine gas", he said.

Such deals, in which the choice is usually to accept state rule or leave, have helped Assad's military claw back control of major cities, with support from Russian Federation and Iran.

Jaysh al-Islam said the evacuations would take place in stages, but it did not say when they would begin.

It said existing basement bomb shelters were so overcrowded that some families were being forced to sleep out in the open, and that at least 70 people had been buried in a park because air strikes made it unsafe to reach the town's cemetery.

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"The center also held talks with the leadership of a number of settlements in Eastern Ghouta on ensuring civilians' access to medical care and humanitarian aid".

More than 1,100 civilians have been killed and 4,000 wounded since the government stepped up its offensive on the Eastern Ghouta on 18 February.

Turkey launched a solo military offensive against the Syrian Kurdish militia known as YPG to clear them from the enclave of Afrin.

Eastern Ghouta is larger and more populated, with some 400,000 people believed to be living there, trapped under a relentless air and ground bombardment and a crippling years-long siege.

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Syrian forces advance against Ghouta rebels