Syrian government forces seizes ground in Ghouta from rebels

Vastavam web: Syrian government forces aim to advance into the eastern Ghouta region one“bite” at a time, a pro-government commander said on Friday, as a war monitor said the army had seized new ground from rebels.In one of the deadliest offensives of the war, government air strikes and bombardment have killed hundreds of people over 12 days in eastern Ghouta, an area of besieged towns and farms that is the last major rebel-controlled area near the capital.

The U.N. Security Council on Saturday called for a 30-day countrywide truce. Russia, which backs the Syrian government in the war, has instead called for daily humanitarian ceasefires from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (0700 GMT to 1200 GMT).The U.S. State Department on Thursday dismissed Russia’s humanitarian ceasefire plan as“a joke”, saying people were afraid to leave the area through a“humanitarian corridor” because of fear of conscription, exile or death.

“Syria must be referred to the International Criminal Court. Attempts to thwart justice and shield these criminals are disgraceful,” he said.The war has escalated on several fronts this year, with the collapse of Islamic State giving way to other conflicts between Syrian and international parties, including Turkey which said eight more of its soldiers had been killed fighting Kurdish militias in the Afrin area of northwestern Syria.

The spokesman for Jaish al-Islam, one of the main Ghouta rebel groups, said on Thursday government forces had tried to divert their attention by opening a new front in the Hazerma area while also waging battles in nearby Hawsh al-Dawahra.Government forces had also made“notable” advances on the western edge of the rebel enclave at Harasta, he said. The Observatory said government forces had seized a group of buildings in that area.

Assad has steadily won back territory from rebels with critical military backing from Russia and Iran. With no sign of decisive Western pressure, eastern Ghouta appears on course to eventually fall to government forces too.Damascus appears to be applying tried and tested military means, combining air strikes and bombardment with ground assaults, as it did to recapture eastern Aleppo from rebels including groups that once received U.S. support.Macron and Trump spoke by telephone about the situation in Syria, and the enforcement of a ceasefire aimed at ending hostilities, opening access to humanitarian aid in eastern Ghouta and evacuating the wounded, the Elysee Palace said.

The two leaders agreed that Russia needed to“unambiguously exert maximum pressure on the regime in Damascus” for it to abide by the ceasefire, said the Elysee statement.Macron also said France would have a“firm response” if it transpired chemical weapons led to civilian deaths in Syria.An investigation established by the United Nations concluded last year that Damascus was behind an attack with sarin nerve agent in northwestern Syria last April, and also that government forces had used chlorine as a weapon on three occasions.