Syria army cuts off largest town in Ghouta enclave: monitor

Syrian forces attacking eastern Ghouta 'have surrounded rebels in Douma'

Jaish al-Islam and the other main rebel faction, Failaq al-Rahman, have repeatedly denied that they are in negotiations with Damascus or its ally Russian Federation over their own evacuation.

Syrian troops have effectively split eastern Ghouta into three parts by sealing off two large towns, Douma and Harasta.

It is hard for aid convoys to reach eastern Ghouta and the global community is failing to intervene.

Syrian state news agency SANA said dozens of civilians were expected to leave Eastern Ghouta on Friday.

Last month the Syrian government committed itself to reclaiming Eastern Ghouta, reportedly leaving more than 900 civilians dead.

Government troops and allied militia have recaptured half of the besieged region in a blistering assault launched on Feb 18.

Syrian state television aired footage of a single bus carrying 13 "fighters" and family members out of the enclave through Al-Wafideen checkpoint, without giving their affiliation.

The two largest groups are Jaish al-Islam and its rival Faylaq al-Rahman.

The limited operation came as the powerful Jaish al-Islam said HTS fighters would be evacuated to the northern province of Idlib, in an arrangement struck following consultations with the United Nations and other worldwide players.

Residents say they fear government retribution if they were to try and flee the area, or the possibility of being redrafted into the Syrian military and sent to fight on the frontline.

Airstrikes continued Tuesday. The opposition's Syrian Civil Defense search-and-rescue group reported at least nine people were killed in airstrikes on the town of Jisreen. HTS was excluded from a ceasefire agreed at the United Nations that has yet to come into effect.

Militants in Eastern Ghouta have been blocking civilians trying to leave the suburb since the first humanitarian corridor was opened at the end of February.

Further north in Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the Turkish army and its Free Syrian Army allies could enter the town of Afrin "at any moment" and are surrounding its centre.

The renewed artillery fire came as representatives of Damascus and businessmen pressed negotiations on a solution that would allow civilians or fighters to leave the enclave, the Observatory said. Kurdish fighters insist the Turkish military has not yet besieged Afrin. They have already taken control of the nearby town of Jinderes, a few kilometres from Afrin, Turkish reports say.

The two insurgents said earlier that they had staged counter-attacks in recent days that retook some lost positions.

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