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Syrian troops split rebel-held enclave

Friday, March 09, 2018

BEIRUT - Syrian government forces bombarded eastern Ghouta anew on Wednesday in an effort to slice the rebel enclave in two, intensifying a campaign to deal the opposition its biggest defeat since 2016.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said pro-Syrian government forces had managed to bring the strip of territory linking the north and south of what remains of rebel-held eastern Ghouta within firing range, effectively bisecting the densely populated region on the outskirts of Damascus.

There was no immediate confirmation of this from the rebels or Syrian government.

The Syrian government onslaught on eastern Ghouta, which began more than two weeks ago, has become one of the fiercest campaigns of a war now entering its eighth year, with bombardment killing hundreds of people.

Live footage broadcast by Syrian state TV from the outskirts of the town of Mesraba earlier on Wednesday showed enormous clouds of smoke rising into the sky. The sounds of explosions and jets could be heard.

A state TV correspondent said militant defences in the town were being hit by "preparatory fire" in advance of a planned infantry assault. "Mesraba is under heavy attack today," said Khalil Aybour, a member of an opposition council in Ghouta.

Capturing Mesraba would be a major step towards severing the northern half of Ghouta, including its biggest town Douma, from the southern part. Government forces have seized more than 50 per cent of the territory so far.

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