Death toll rises to 40 in strikes on opposition pocket in E Ghouta



BEIRUT, Weedah Hamzah (dpa)- Heavy airstrikes on the last opposition pocket near the Syrian capital of Damascus intensified late Friday, raising the death toll to 40 and shattering a 10-day lull there, a war monitor said.
The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, described the strikes as "hysterical" and spoke of hundreds of raids on Douma.



He added that the airstrikes and shelling coincided with a ground assault which was carried out by the Syrian government forces on the southwest and eastern sector of Douma.
Activist Baraa Abdel Rahman described the humanitarian situation inside Douma as "tragic," as many of the wounded are dying from the lack of medical care as there are few doctors remaining in the area.
The Observatory said several shells also fell on the Syrian capital, Damascus, killing at least four people and wounding 20 others in the Barzeh, Al Abaseen Square and Mazze neighbourhoods.
In an interview with the Dubai-based Al Arabia Television, Mohammed Alloush, an official of Jaish al-Islam, denied that the group had shelled any any area inside the capital.
The state-run Syrian News Agency (SANA), meanhwile, accused the rebel group Jaish al-Islam of obstructing the continued implementation of a Russian-brokered agreement to evacuate the faction's fighters from Douma to northern Syria in exchange for the release of prisoners being held by the group.
The Observatory said if the ongoing negotiations between Jaish al-Islam and the Russians fail by Saturday, it is likely that Douma will witness a large military operation.
Activits inside Douma said that violence returned to Douma to pressure the remaining Jaish al-Islam group into leaving Douma to northern Syria.
They added that leaflets were dropped on Douma on Friday saying that rebels should either leave to the northern town of Jarablus or stay and hand their heavy weapons and receive amnesty.
The amnesty would include not drafting young men into the Syrian army's military service until after six to 10 months. The leaflets also called on civilians to stay and that their safety would be guaranteed by the Russians.
Rami Abdel Rahman said the rebel group is still refusing to hand their heavy weapons and wants to remain inside Douma.
Abdel Rahman added that there are divisions within the ranks of Jaish al-Islam, as some members want to leave Douma, while followers of the religious chief of the group, Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Kaaka, are still rejecting any deal with the Syrian government and wants to stay fight till the end.
On Thursday, evacuations from Douma were suspended, days after hundreds of opposition fighters and their families safely left Douma under the Russian-mediated deal.
The Observatory said the suspension came after an unspecified disagreement between Jaish al-Islam and Russia, which is a major military ally of Damascus.
In recent weeks, government forces have taken back most of Eastern Ghouta through a combination of ground assaults and Russia-brokered evacuation deals.
Some opposition groups have condemned these evacuations as forced displacements.
Earlier Friday, a bomb went off near a mosque in Damascus, killing at least one person and injuring six others, SANA and the Observatory reported.
So far, there has been no claim of responsibility.
Damascus is the power seat of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
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Saturday, April 7th 2018
Weedah Hamzah (dpa)
           


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