Syrian government splits rebel-held Eastern Ghouta

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The Syrian army has reportedly splintered the rebel-held enclave of eastern Ghouta, as it intensifies its three-week assault on the area near Damascus.

A Syrian soldier secures aid convoy after its return from eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria March 9, 2018.

Air strikes hit the areas of Jisreen and Harasta after stopping briefly in the early morning, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.

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. Because of the ongoing hostilities, it is hard to get independent information from eastern Ghouta.

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.

Some 1,000 have been killed and as many as 3,000 injured in the last three weeks.

In around two weeks, the Syrian army has retaken almost all the farmland in the enclave east of Damascus under cover of near-ceaseless shelling and air strikes, leaving only a dense sprawl of towns - about half the territory - still under insurgent control. Reaching them would physically cut northern parts of eastern Ghouta from its southern parts.

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Syrian state TV showed pictures on Friday of what it said was a number of fighters boarding a bus to leave the enclave.

"It has been agreed that they be moved to Idlib at their request", the statement added.

"Once you came in we felt well", said one of the women in the basement. "Entire families eat one meal in several days", he said. The Syrian government, through the SANA state news agency, denied using chemical weapons. "The advance is the result of a scorched earth policy".

Regime forces have advanced rapidly through farmland in the enclave since last week, according to the Observatory, taking control of more than half of the territory from the armed opposition.

The Syrian government began a major offensive last month to re-take Eastern Ghouta, near the capital Damascus.

Any solution to the crisis will probably involve a partial evacuation of rebel fighters and perhaps civilians, in a deal similar to past surrender agreements between the government and rebels.

Syrian troops have been on the offensive in eastern Damascus for weeks and the violence has left almost 1,000 people dead.

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