Syrian Army seals off major eastern Ghouta towns

Syrian Army seals off major eastern Ghouta towns

Almost 400,000 people have been trapped in Eastern Ghouta since 2013 when insurgents first took over control and the government began its offensive to oust the rebels.

The two largest groups are Jaish al-Islam and its rival Faylaq al-Rahman.

The war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, on Friday gave a death toll of 931 civilians in the campaign.

Meanwhile an opposition website said that a group of fighters from the jihadists Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) arrived in central Hama province from Eastern Ghouta, a day after an evacuation deal was reached. Residents have spent weeks living underground in bomb shelters, suffering food shortages and a lack of medical supplies, with doctors saying they are overwhelmed by the number of wounded. He said they would "purge" the town and then carry on further east.

The food parcels were supposed to be delivered on Monday when another aid convoy entered Douma, but the fighting and bombardment then forced it to leave early without unloading all its supplies.

The Observatory also said warplanes, helicopters and artillery had been used in bombardment of the area overnight.

The military gains have caused wide-scale internal displacement as civilians flee government advances toward areas in the territory still held by the rebels.

Within the last eight months, the regime has stepped up the siege, preventing food and medicine from entering the district, leaving thousands of residents in need of medical treatment.

Government troops and allied militia have recaptured half of the besieged region in a blistering assault launched on Feb 18. "We want to save our children and all those who have not died", said Abu Riyadh, a 47-year-old man in the town.

He told journalists there had also been discussions for "500 fighters to hand over their weapons to the army".

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on Friday called the conflict a "colossal human tragedy".

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian Federation, his main ally, say the campaign is needed to end rebel shelling of Damascus and to end the rule of Islamist insurgents over the area's civilians.

Turkey-led rebels have been pressing an assault on the Kurdish enclave of Afrin since January 20.