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

Delegation from Syria rebel enclave mulls evacuation deal

Syrian government forces have split the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, cutting off the largest city Douma, media reports said on Saturday.

Syria's state-run television later broadcast footage it said showed 13 militants and their families leaving the besieged enclave in suburban Damascus.

A clear strategy of the Syrian government's offensive in Eastern Ghouta has been to divide the enclave into isolated sections and so cut off rebel support and supply networks, the BBC's Arab Affairs editor Sebastian Usher says - and now the government appears to have all but achieved that goal.

Grandi added that while most of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon have expressed a desire to return to their home country, "almost all of them say not right now" and any plans of them returning are "very premature".

The UN humanitarian agencies have sounded the alarm about the worsening humanitarian situation for 400,000 people live in that region, where activists said over 800 people have been killed since late last month by the heavy bombardment and military showdown in areas of Eastern Ghouta.

The government has opened several safe routes out of eastern Ghouta for civilians, but none are known to have left so far the rebels are preventing them from fleeing the fighting.

Rebels have tried to slow the advance with an attempted counter-offensive, but President Bashar al-Assad's forces steamrolled their efforts.

"It has been agreed that the first group of HTS members be released from the prisons of Jaish al-Islam ..."

Mekdad also pointed out that the Syrian government had asked global investigators to investigate reports about a chemical incident in Khan Sheikhoun but the request was declined over alleged poor security conditions.

However, both Jaish al-Islam and Failaq al-Rahman have said they are not negotiating such deals for themselves.

Four major rebel groups are now positioned inside Eastern Ghouta, namely the Islam Army, Failaq al-Rahman, Ahrar al-Sham and the Levant Liberation Committee, otherwise known as the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.

Air strikes started up again after the evacuation, killing nine people and injuring around 28, the Observatory said.

The government has repeatedly denied using chlorine gas.

Tens of thousands of people have fled further into the enclave in the face of the warfare, a United Nations official said on Thursday, and residents of Douma said shelters were crowded with the new arrivals.

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