The Syrian regime and its allies have launched fresh operations to consolidate on their gains in eastern Ghouta. Areas targeted include a refugee camp south of the capital Damascus under Daesh control.

Between mid-February and its fall, more than 1,400 people died in attacks by the regime and its allies in eastern Ghouta, according to local civil defence sources. April 16, 2018.
Between mid-February and its fall, more than 1,400 people died in attacks by the regime and its allies in eastern Ghouta, according to local civil defence sources. April 16, 2018. ( AFP )

The regime of Syria's Bashar al Assad and its allies have launched fresh operations to capture opposition-held parts of the northern Homs province, Anadolu Agency (AA) correspondents based in the area reported on Tuesday.

After gaining full control of eastern Ghouta, a suburb of capital Damascus, the regime and its allies now appear to have set their sights on opposition-held parts of Homs and additional territories in central Syria, AA reported.

According to AA reporters in Homs, in the past three days, regime forces have captured the villages of Wadi al Hubbiya, Wadi al Qurbat, Ard al Jassiya, Ard Kabir al Sheyha, Zahrat Jebabi and Zahrat Jassiya.

During the course of the regime’s ground operations, the Teblise and Rastan districts of Homs, Deir Ful, Camp Malluk, Musrefiya, Zarafani and Tirmala – all of which are home to large civilian populations – were targeted by regime warplanes, rockets and gunfire.

Local sources say the regime’s main objective is to secure the Salamiya highway linking Aleppo to northern Homs, after which it hopes to seize a 600-square-kilometre area currently held by the opposition.

For the last five years, roughly 200,000 people have remained under siege in northern Homs.

Backed by Russian air power, the regime and its allies recently seized eastern Ghouta – one of the last rebel strongholds on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus – following sustained attacks and a five-year siege.

Daesh pocket targeted outside Damascus

The Syrian army began preparatory shelling for an assault on the last area outside its control near Damascus on Tuesday, a commander in the pro-regime alliance said, building on its recent capture of the major suburb of eastern Ghouta.

Recovering the Yarmouk camp and neighbouring areas located south of the city would give Assad complete control over Syria's capital, further consolidating his grip on power.

Yarmouk, Syria's biggest camp for Palestinian refugees since the mid-20th century, has been under the control of Daesh for several years. Although the vast majority of residents have fled, the United Nations says thousands remain.

Assad has benefited from Russian air power since 2015 to regain large swathes of Syria, putting him in his strongest position since the early months of the war now in its eighth year.

The war has killed more than 500,000 people and has drawn in regional and global powers. The United States, Britain and France launched their first coordinated strikes against Assad's government on Saturday in retaliation for what they say was a poison gas attack on April 7 that killed scores of residents in Douma, the last town in the eastern Ghouta to fall.

The US-led attack destroyed three targets that had been evacuated in advance, but appeared to do nothing to alter the wider course of the war, leaving Assad's Russian-backed forces still on the offensive with the goal of further extending their recent gains.

Damascus and Moscow have both denied using poison gas and have broadcast statements from hospital workers in Douma - which medical aid groups operating in rebel areas have dismissed as propaganda - saying that no chemical attack took place.

A team of international chemical weapons inspectors that arrived in Damascus on Friday has still not visited Douma to gather evidence, though Russia said it would do so on Wednesday.

Media 'tour' of Douma

A regime-sanctioned media tour on Monday of Douma, the biggest town in the former rebel enclave of eastern Ghouta just outside Damascus, revealed severe destruction and the plight of residents who had survived years of siege.

The assault on eastern Ghouta began in February and ended in government victory on Saturday when rebels withdrew from the town, hours after the US, UK and France were finished with their air strikes on buildings they said were used to research or store chemical weapons and equipment.

Each of the rebel groups controlling areas of eastern Ghouta eventually agreed surrender deals that involved withdrawal to opposition-held areas of northwestern Syria including Idlib.

After the recapture of eastern Ghouta, Assad still has several smaller pockets of ground to recover from rebels, as well as two major areas they hold in the northwest and southwest.

Besides the pocket south of Damascus, rebels still hold besieged enclaves in the town of Dumayr northeast of Damascus, in the Eastern Qalamoun mountains nearby, and around Rastan north of Homs.

A pro-regime commander said the army had prepared for military action in the Eastern Qalamoun, but that Russia was working on the militants' withdrawal without a battle.

Regime TV said on Tuesday that rebels in Dumayr had also agreed to withdraw.

Source: AA