Syria Deeply: Latest developments on the ground in Eastern Ghouta, the southern province of Sweida and Raqqa
Aug. 11th, 2017
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Eastern Ghouta: The Syrian government stepped up attacks on the eastern Damascus suburbs, carrying out some of the heaviest bombardments of the Eastern Ghouta region in the last two months, despite the area being a de-escalation zone.
Early in the week, rebel group Failaq al-Rahman said it fired on Syrian government tanks just outside Eastern Ghouta, killing and wounding several soldiers.
Pro-government forces carried out aerial bombardments and shelling almost daily in the area, with particular emphasis on the Ain Terma and Jobar districts. There were at least 18 air raids Monday on the two districts and some 15 mortar shells were dropped in an area between them. Airstrikes and shelling in the area Tuesday killed at least two people and injured seven others.
The assault grew more intense Wednesday as Syrian government artillery targeted the districts of Arbin, Douma, Ain Terma, Jobar and the town of Kafr Batna, killing at least five people and wounding at least 10 others. In the following 24 hours, the government launched some 42 ground-to-ground missiles in the area, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). At least three people were killed in shelling on the Hamouriyah district Thursday, according to SOHR.
The increase in bombardment has rebels worried that this is a precursor to a ground assault in areas under opposition control in a government attempt to retake the Damascus suburbs.
Pro-government forces seized control of all rebel checkpoints and border posts along the frontier in the southern province of Sweida, after launching an attack on rebel groups – some of which are backed by Western and Arab states – in the eastern countryside.
This development contradicts earlier reports of cease-fire and safe zones in the southern province. Sweida was initially thought to be included in the July cease-fire brokered by Russia, the U.S. and Jordan. However, reports circulated within the first 24 hours that pro-government forces had violated the cease-fire in Sweida.
Reuters reported Thursday that Sweida province is not included in the cease-fire agreement. It remained unclear, however, whether or not the province was included in the southern de-escalation zone that Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed to in May.
Northern Syria: The Syrian Democratic Forces encircled the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) in central Raqqa Thursday, but the U.S.-backed forces say that finishing the entire offensive could take much longer.
“It could take another three to four months to finish Raqqa,” Haval Gabar, the 25-year-old commander from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia directing the assault on Raqqa’s Old City, told Reuters.
On Tuesday, military reinforcements for the SDF arrived in the northern city of Raqqa, and fighters moving from the east of the city were able to join forces with their counterparts advancing from the west, effectively cutting off ISIS’s last remaining route to the Euphrates.
The ongoing offensive against ISIS’s former de-facto capital has taken a devastating toll on civilians in the area. Since the operation began in early June, at least 595 civilians, including at least 136 children and 84 women, were killed in Raqqa city and surrounding areas, according to SOHR.
An assessment done by the REACH initiative in late July reported that civilians are continuing to flee Raqqa, the population of which is now estimated to be between “10,000 and 25,000, compared to 20,000-50,000 three weeks ago.”
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