Russian strikes kill 37 civilians in Ghouta

Saul Bowman
March 25, 2018

Syrian rescuers and a war monitoring group say 37 people were killed in airstrikes in a town in the eastern Ghouta region near the capital, Damascus, just hours before a cease-fire went into effect after midnight.

Capturing eastern Ghouta, near the capital Damascus, would be Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's biggest victory over the rebels since driving them from Aleppo in December 2016. Meanwhile, state television cited its own correspondent as reporting that rebels in a second pocket around the towns of Arbin, Jobar, Zamalka and Ein Terma had also agreed to leave.

As many as 7,000 rebels and their family members are to leave areas of Jobar, Zamalka, Arbeen, and Ayn Tarma in Eastern Ghouta, and the deal covers the main rebel groups in control of those areas, namely the Failaq al-Rahman, and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.

A deal, struck with another group for the smaller pocket of Harasta, began on Thursday and talks are under way for the third and final pocket, which includes Douma.

"Russian air strikes and incendiary weapons killed the civilians in a basement from burning or suffocation" late on Thursday before a ceasefire came into effect in the area, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Syria's state-run SANA news agency claimed that a little over three thousand people left Harasta on Friday, including 1,072 armed men, to join the first group of over 1,500 people who left for Idleb a day earlier.

"We couldn't live above ground because of the heavy bombardment".

Syrian forces have split Eastern Ghouta into three pockets, which are under the control of three different rebel groups.

Syrian rebel fighters hand themselves over to regime troops on March 23, 2018, as regime forces move in to the outskirts of Ain Tarma, in the south of eastern Ghouta, after a deal was reached with a rebel group that controlled the area.

Laerke said: "we help those tens of thousands of people who are fleeing and coming out, and as I mentioned the other day, they come out in a really bad state of mind, and physical condition, it's awful".

The evacuation will take place on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. (0730 GMT) after the rebels hand over maps of the tunnels they dug and mines they planted in the aforementioned areas.

Retaking Eastern Ghouta, a sprawling semi-rural area which had escaped government control since 2012 and lies within mortar range of central Damascus, was made a priority this year after a string of regime gains.

At least seven people were killed in a car-bomb blast in Syria's northwestern Idlib city on Saturday, according to a local civil defense official.

"There are cases of lice and scabies", the Turkey-based spokesman said.

The offensive on Eastern Ghouta has caused widespread outrage and marked one of the darkest episodes of a war that entered its eighth year this month.

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