Iraq News

Thousands flee Ghouta as Syrian army advances

A new convoy carried desperately needed food into Eastern Ghouta on Thursday (March 15th), as the capture of a key town brought Syria's government even closer to retaking the devastated opposition enclave outside Damascus.

Thousands fled Eastern Ghouta into government-held territory on Thursday, in the largest numbers since the regime assault on the enclave began on February 18th.

Regime forces now control 70% of the area, a war monitor said, and have split the remaining opposition-held territory into three shrinking pockets.

After a fierce air and ground assault, regime forces on Thursday captured Hammuriyeh, a town in an isolated southern zone of Ghouta.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Hammuriyeh fell to regime forces after fighters from the Faylaq al-Rahman opposition faction withdrew.

The regime's advance into Hammuriyeh overnight had opened up a corridor through the town into government-controlled territory.

Streams of women and children escaped through that corridor on Thursday, carrying plastic bags stuffed with clothes and pushing strollers piled high with suitcases and rugs.

The Observatory said more than 12,000 people fled the enclave on Thursday in "the largest displacement since the beginning of the assault on Ghouta".

The Russian military, which has backed the offensive on the enclave, said as many as 13,000 people could leave Ghouta by the end of the day.

On Thursday, a joint convoy of food supplies for some 26,000 people entered Douma, the largest town in Ghouta and part of a separate opposition-controlled pocket.

"This is just a little of what these families need," said the International Committee of the Red Cross, which was carrying out the delivery alongside the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the UN.

ICRC President Peter Maurer was present with the convoy, the first time he had accompanied such an operation.

Thursday's aid operation came after two consecutive days of medical evacuations from Douma, which saw dozens of civilians bussed out to receive treatment in Damascus.

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