Syrian forces retake more than 50 per cent of rebel-held Eastern Ghouta

Assad forces are said to have also retaken Beit Sawa and Al-Ashaari. Their next target is Douma and the areas west of the rebel enclave. Some sources say 800 people have died since the start of the offensive, but there has been no independent confirmation. Claims that the area was hit by a chemical attack on Sunday have been denied.

Damascus (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Syrian forces have retaken more than half of Eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held enclave near Damascus, since they launched their offensive on 18 February, this according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), citing local anti-Assad sources. However, no further details about the operation underway are available.

“Regime forces control more than 50 per cent of Ghouta," said SOHR chief Rami Abdel Rahman, "after forces retook Al-Ashaari and Beit Sawa towns”.

With Russian support, the goal now is to retake the whole area. Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are expected to turn their attention to the city of Douma and places west of the rebel enclave, where jihadist groups also operate.

The Observatory reported that 45 civilians were killed yesterday, including four children. Thus far, some 800 civilians are said to have been killed, but the figure has not been independently confirmed.

On several occasions, the Observatory has accused Russia of causing the death of civilians in air raids in support of government forces, a claim that Russia ha always denied.

Conversely, rebel shelling and rocket attacks have hit parts of the capital from Eastern Ghouta causing death injuries, including Christians, as Apostolic Nuncio Card Mario Zenari and Trappist nuns pointed out in a harsh letter accusing the West and international media.

For now, some doctors working in Eastern Ghouta have denied claims that chlorine was used in Sunday’s air raid.

The apparent rumour spread after civilians seeking medical attention after the attack by government forces came in with respiratory problems.

"Findings show that a basement was targeted by a rocket . . . whose impact caused a minor explosion sound," Syria's opposition directorate of health for Damascus said in a statement, adding that the substances emitted caused "coughing, red eyes and throat congestion".

The use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war is a recurrent issue with anti-Assad groups and the West accusing the government, and the latter, backed by Russia, denying such claims.