Syria, Russia step up offensive on rebels in Eastern Ghouta

by WorldTribune Staff, March 9, 2018

Syrian regime and Russian warplanes on March 7 intensified their assault on rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, where some 400,000 people are trapped and more than 800 civilians have been killed in recent weeks.

Rebel defenses in towns on the outskirts of Damascus were being struck by “preparatory fire” in advance of a planned infantry assault, a Syrian state TV correspondent said.

Smoke rises after Syrian regime strikes on the village of Mesraba in Eastern Ghouta on March 7. / AFP

“Mesraba is under heavy attack today,” said Khalil Aybour, a member of an opposition council in Ghouta.

Three civilians including one child were killed in heavy air strikes on the town of Jisreen on March 6, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. That brought the death toll in more than two weeks of bombing to 810 civilians, including 179 children.

Syrian and Russia have continued the offensive in Eastern Ghouta despite a plea from the UN Security Council for a 30-day countrywide ceasefire. Pro-Assad forces have taken about 40 percent of the rebel-held territory.

Rebels have also dismissed a Russian offer that would allow them to evacuate Eastern Ghouta, Reuters reported.

“The factions of Ghouta and their fighters and its people are holding onto their land and will defend it,” Hamza Birqdar of the Jaish al-Islam rebel group told Reuters in a text message.

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said the Syrian government offensive could not be justified by its targeting of a few hundred rebel fighters.

“Recent attempts to justify indiscriminate, brutal attacks on hundreds of thousands of civilians by the need to combat a few hundred fighters – as in Eastern Ghouta – are legally, and morally, unsustainable,” al-Hussein told the UN Human Rights Council.

“Also, when you are prepared to kill your own people so easily, lying is easy too. Claims by the government of Syria that it is taking every measure to protect its civilian population are frankly ridiculous.”

Meanwhile, a Russian military transport plane crashed in Syria on March 6, killing all 39 people on board, Russian officials said.

“According to the latest updates, the An-26 transport aircraft, which crashed while landing at Hmeymim airbase, was carrying 33 passengers and six crew. All of them were members of the Russian Armed Forces,” Interfax news agency quoted the Russian Defense Ministry as saying.

Russian state TV cited military officials as saying the Soviet-designed aircraft was not brought down by enemy fire. It said the plane came down around 500 meters short of the runway at Hmeymim as it attempted to land.

Russian warplanes have taken part in the Eastern Ghouta operation, and the Trump administration has accused Russia of complicity in the killing of civilians there.

Subscribe to Geostrategy-Direct __________ Support Free Press Foundation