Aid delivered to Syria's Ghouta amid fighting

The government, determined to wrest the eastern Ghouta suburbs from the control of rebels after seven years of war, has intensified the shelling and bombardment to clear the way for its troops to advance on the ground.

Jaish al-Islam and the other main rebel faction, Failaq al-Rahman, have repeatedly denied that they are in negotiations with Damascus or its ally Russian Federation over their own evacuation.

The Syrian government's two-week onslaught in eastern Ghouta has killed around 950 civilians, the war monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

On Friday, an emergency aid convoy crossed front lines into eastern Ghouta and delivered its supplies.

A first group of jihadists is to be evacuated from the Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta, the target of a devastating regime assault, a powerful Islamist rebel group announced on Friday.

But the group represents only a small portion of the insurgent presence in the enclave, and both Jaish al-Islam and Failaq al-Rahman have said they are not negotiating a similar deal for themselves.

Also Saturday, the Syrian forces captured the town of Mesraba, a strategic area in the central part of Eastern Ghouta, which enables the Syrian army to tighten its recent move of splitting Eastern Ghouta in half as it links several towns and areas in Eastern Ghouta with one another.

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According to Syrian state media, 13 fighters were evacuated with their families through the al-Wafeedin passage and bussed to Idlib province.

"If I thought about leaving Ghouta I would worry about the regime because there are no guarantees: and, second, I would worry about Jaish al-Islam, because they won't let us leave", said one activist in Douma.

Keen to secure Damascus, government troops and allied militias have been closing in on the enclave since February 18 and have overrun more than half of it.

Numerous rounds of UN-backed peace talks have failed to bring an end to the conflict, and a nationwide ceasefire called for by the UN Security Council last month has not been implemented.

The roads connecting the towns to each other were all covered by army fire, the observatory said.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Tuesday's crash of the An-26 military cargo plane occurred just 500 meters (1,600 feet) from the runway of Syria's Hemeimeem military base.

On Saturday, at least one child was killed and four other civilians wounded in rebel shelling on eastern districts of Damascus, according to state news agency SANA.

  • Megan Austin