Bashar al Assad's forces capture half of eastern Ghouta, battering shrinking rebel-held areas with air strikes that have killed 905 people so far. But rebels deny the territory had been cut in half.

The regime's bombing raids have so far left over 900 civilians dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The regime's bombing raids have so far left over 900 civilians dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. (AFP)

Syrian regime forces are poised to slice rebel-held eastern Ghouta in two as forces advancing from the east link up with troops at the enclave's western edge, a pro-regime military commander said on Thursday.

That put the zone effectively under Syrian regime control as the remaining strip of territory was within weapons range.

Bashar al Assad's regime, backed in the war by Russia and Iran, is seeking to crush the last major rebel enclave near Damascus in a ferocious campaign that has killed over 900 people, according to a war monitor.

The death toll reached 905 after fresh air strikes on the town of Zamalka killed seven civilians, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Thursday. 

The pro-regime commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the media, confirmed a report by the Britain-based SOHR late on Wednesday that the enclave had effectively been sliced in two.

But Wael Alwan, the Turkey-based spokesperson for Failaq al Rahman, one of the main rebel groups in eastern Ghouta, denied that the territory had been cut in half. 

"No" he said in a text message when asked if the report was correct.

Red Cross says aid delayed

Meanwhile, an aid convoy that intended to go to eastern Ghouta later on Thursday was postponed, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.

Ingy Sedky, the ICRC spokesperson in Syria, said Thursday's "convoy is postponed. No confirmation yet on when it will take place."

Sedky added that "the situation is evolving rapidly on the ground, which doesn't allow us to carry out the operation in such conditions."

Earlier this week, the first convoy in weeks made it into eastern Ghouta, but 14 of the 46 trucks were not able to fully offload critical humanitarian supplies because of stepped-up violence.

The United Nations says 400,000 people are trapped in the towns and villages of eastern Ghouta. 

They have been under regime siege for years and were already running out of food and medicine before the assault. Many civilians have fled from the front lines into Douma, a town in the enclave.

Safe passage to rebels offered

Russia, the Syrian regime's most powerful ally, has offered rebels safe passage out with their families and personal weapons. 

The proposal echoes previous agreements under which insurgents, in the face of military defeat, were permitted to withdraw to opposition-held areas along the Turkish border.

Russia's defence ministry said on Wednesday that some rebels wanted to accept the proposal to evacuate. So far the rebels have dismissed it in public and vowed to fight on.

Syrians run for cover in Hammuriyeh during Syrian regime shelling on opposition-held areas in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus.  March 6, 2018.
Syrians run for cover in Hammuriyeh during Syrian regime shelling on opposition-held areas in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus. March 6, 2018. (AFP)

Setback for opposition

Defeat in eastern Ghouta could mark the worst setback for the opposition since it was driven from eastern Aleppo in late 2016 after a similar campaign of siege, bombing, ground assaults and the promise of safe passage out.

Moscow and Damascus say the Ghouta campaign is necessary to halt deadly rebel shelling of the capital.

The UN Security Council called on Wednesday for the implementation of a February 24 resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire across Syria and it voiced concern about the country's humanitarian plight.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies