20 civilians killed as Syrian troops take on rebel bastions

BEIRUT: Regime forces upped the pressure on two of the last rebel bastions in Syria on Monday, pounding the Eastern Ghouta enclave near Damascus and the northern province of Idlib.

Shelling and air strikes on Ghouta, which government forces have besieged for four years, killed at least 20 civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The semi-rural area east of the Syrian capital is home to around 400,000 inhabitants and is targeted almost daily by regime forces trying to flush out rebel groups.

On Monday, a woman and her three children were killed in regime strikes on Douma, which is the main town in Eastern Ghouta, Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Observatory, said.

In the town’s morgue, medics were wrapping the children’s shredded bodies in shrouds amid the shrieks of bereaved parents.

Chaos engulfed the rudimentary facility as rescuers kept rushing in more wounded, some of whom died before they could receive life-saving treatment.

“I was at the market with my father, selling mint, parsley and onions. The next thing I knew, my foot was bleeding and my dad had a head injury,” said Ahmed Hatem, an 11-year-old boy, as he sat on the floor wincing in pain.

A child and two other civilians were also killed in strikes on the small town of Madira, the Observatory said. The violence also left another 13 civilians dead across Eastern Ghouta.

The area, which had been designated as a “de-escalation zone” as part of an international deal last year to bring down violence levels, has witnessed major bloodshed in recent weeks.

Syrian forces also managed overnight to pin back rebels who had surrounded a regime base there.

Idlib violence

Rebels led by the Jaish al-Islam group had in recent days surrounded the army’s only military base in the area but the state news agency SANA said on Monday the siege had been broken.

“Units from the Syrian Arab Army have brought an end to the encirclement of the Armoured Vehicles Base in Harasta,” it said, adding that operations were ongoing to fully secure the base.

According to the Observatory, the fighting in Harasta since the base was surrounded in late December left 72 regime fighters and 87 rebels dead.

Categories: Top story,Warzone

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