Syrian state TV says troops closing in on Douma

Although a number of rebel strongholds remain, none are as strategically important as Eastern Ghouta, where Douma is located.More than 130,000 people have fled the once-besieged enclave in recent weeks, according to the United Nations, majority to government-run reception centers in Damascus. It has repeatedly said it is opposed to leaving Douma, and is believed to want to remain in the town as a local security force recognised by the Syrian government.

The offensive to reclaim Douma, the last pocket of resistance in the suburbs surrounding Damascus, also followed talks between Turkey, Russia and Iran, on Syria.

The channel said troops carried out a ground offensive under the cover of airstrikes moving deep into the so-called Douma Farms after a 10-day truce collapsed Friday afternoon.

Syrian state media had said the strikes were a retaliation for a recent shelling of regime-controlled areas by rebels.

Opposition activists said 25 people were killed in airstrikes that targeted Douma while state TV said two people were killed in the capital Damascus when rebels fired mortar shells into the city.

In an apparent bid to pressure Jaish al-Islam - the Islamist group that holds the town - to withdraw, Syrias government yesterday resumed bombardment of the town after a more than week-long lull.

Earlier it was reported that the Syrian rebels and the Russian military agreed on a plan for the evacuation of the city Council.

Regime forces have captured almost all of Ghouta with a combination of ferocious bombing raids, which started on February 18, and negotiated withdrawals.

SANA said they faltered when Jaish al-Islam refused to release detainees they were holding in Douma, adding that the military assault would only stop if hostages are released.

The regime has used a combination of fierce bombardment and two negotiated withdrawals to empty out 95 percent of the enclave but rebels are still entrenched in the largest town of Douma.

As talks over the third and final pocket of Douma dragged on, Russian Federation and Syria's regime threatened Jaish al-Islam with a renewed military assault if they did not agree to withdraw.

Over 33,300 people have left Syria's Duma since March 5, Russian Defense Ministry informed. "We've been waiting for this for years, whether in Ghouta or in Damascus", said Abbas. A spokesman for his office, however, said an operation against Tel Rifat might not be needed.

Another eight civilians were killed on Saturday as more bombing raids slammed into the town, the Britain-based Observatory said. "People still need me", he said.

Syrian state media is reporting that a bomb has exploded near a mosque in the capital Damascus killing one person and wounding six others.

  • Rogelio Becker