Amid the bloody fighting and heavy civilian casualties near the capital, the Syrian Army launched a new offensive in Eastern Ghouta on Sunday. In the past few weeks, over 1,100 people have been killed in the region.

Destruction in Syria

Destruction in Syria Photo Credit: via Wikimedia Commons

An expected offensive by the Syrian military split the rebel holding of Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus, separating two major towns from the rest of the area. Syrian state media broadcast footage from the town of Mudeira, which war monitors claimed was used by the Syrian Army to link up with other units in the area. JOL had previously reported that the Syrian Army had split off the towns of Douma and Harasta, with battles intensifying in the last few days, leading to more than 1,100 deaths on the outskirts of the capital in the weeks since the fighting escalated.

The situation for the rebels in Eastern Ghouta, mainly self-proclaimed members of the Free Syrian Army, has been increasingly deteriorating as the Syrian military continues to cut off crucial communication and supply lines and implement a tried-and-true strategy of dividing rebel enclaves and forcing their surrender. However, a statement issued by the fighters said they will not engage in any negotiations or withdrawals, and the continued violence has led to repeated condemnation by U.N. Human Rights officials.

The refusal to negotiate seems consistent with rebels refusing a safe passage out of Eastern Ghouta early last week, which had been arranged by Russian forces assisting Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s army in Eastern Ghouta. However, reports since then have claimed the use of incendiary bombs on civilian areas, with doctors in Ghouta also reporting chlorine and choking symptoms on victims of the bombings.

The government has repeatedly denied the use of such materials, and pictures showed leaflets dropped by airplanes instructing civilians to leave the neighborhoods, promising them a swift return home after the army “eliminates terrorism” in their town. The government has also reported that the rebels plan to stage a “fake chemical attack” to discredit the military’s operations in Eastern Ghouta.

The World Health Organization prepared a convoy of aid to Eastern Ghouta but reported being blocked from entering areas where it needed to deliver emergency medical supplies as well as food packages.