Death toll tops 1,000 in E. Ghouta offensive

AFPDOUMA, Syria (AFP-Jiji) — Syrian regime forces continued their offensive against eastern Ghouta Sunday, a day after they cut off the rebel-held enclave’s largest town, pressing on with a 20-day assault that has left more than 1,000 civilians dead.

Government troops and allied militia launched their military campaign for eastern Ghouta on Feb. 18 and have since overrun more than half of the area, defying global calls for a halt to the violence.

The assault has followed a divide-and-conquer strategy, eating away at rebel-held territory, and government forces on Saturday successfully isolated Ghouta’s main town of Douma in a blow for the beleaguered rebels.

Regime fighters cut off a road linking Douma with the town of Harasta further west and also captured the town of Misraba, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“Regime forces have therefore divided eastern Ghouta into three parts — Douma and its surroundings, Harasta in the west, and the rest of the towns further south,” the Britain-based monitor said.

Shelling and airstrikes slammed into Douma on Saturday, trapping residents inside their basements for hours, AFP’s correspondents in the town said.

Rescue workers and medics were struggling to navigate the town’s rubble-littered roads to bring wounded residents back to field clinics.

At least 20 civilians — including four children — were killed in Douma on Saturday, in addition to 17 civilians in other battlefront towns, said the Observatory.

The deaths raised the assault’s total toll to 1,031 civilians, including 219 children, according to the Observatory. More than 4,350 have been wounded.

‘Bomb shelters full’

Douma’s opposition-run local council issued an urgent “distress call” on Saturday to international organisations.

“The bomb shelters and basements are full, and people are sleeping in the streets and in public gardens,” the statement said.

“For three days, it has been hard to bury the dead because of the intense bombing on the cemetery,” it added.

eastern Ghouta is the last remaining opposition-controlled zone on the outskirts of the capital, and rebels there have regularly fired rockets onto Damascus.

On Saturday, at least one child was killed and four other civilians wounded in rebel shelling on eastern districts of Damascus, according to state news agency SANA.

Rebels have tried to slow the advance with an attempted counter-offensive, but President Bashar al-Assad’s forces steamrolled their efforts.

Syrian state television broadcast live footage from Misraba hours after it was captured by the army on Saturday, showing dozens of civilians in a dark basement, surrounded by troops.Speech

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