Heavy bombardment strikes key East Ghouta town as pro-government forces battle to split rebel enclave in two

AMMAN: Intense pro-government bombings struck a key town linking the northern and southern halves of East Ghouta on Tuesday, as a Damascus-led ground offensive threatens to divide the rebel enclave in two.

At least 18 pro-government airstrikes hit the rebel-held Misraba on Tuesday, killing one resident and wounding several others, the Civil Defense reported.

Misraba, a farm town in the center of East Ghouta, is the largest settlement standing in the way of pro-government ground forces as they battle to sever the pocket of rebel-held territory just east of Damascus in two.

Three kilometers of opposition territory currently separate government forces attacking from the eastern and western edges of East Ghouta. Misraba lies in the center of that stretch of territory.

Pro-government forces have captured one third of East Ghouta since starting to advance this past Thursday within a major government ground offensive against the rebel enclave, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported earlier this week.

“Misraba is the link between central and northern Ghouta,” Hamza Beriqdar, the spokesman for rebel faction Jaish al-Islam told Syria Direct on Tuesday afternoon. Military operations to beat back government attempts to advance into and capture Misraba were “ongoing,” he added.

Jaish al-Islam spokesman Beriqdar claimed that a rebel minefield killed a dozen government soldiers near Misraba as they attempted to advance from the nearby town of al-Shafouniya on Tuesday morning.

Syria Direct could not independently confirm Beriqdar’s claims, while Syrian state media did not mention military operations near Misraba in the past 48 hours.

Rebel faction Failaq a-Rahman—Jaish al-Islam’s longtime rival for political and military dominance in East Ghouta—sent reinforcements to aid rebel forces in Misraba one week ago, Failaq a-Rahman spokesman Wael Alwan told Syria Direct on Tuesday.

Recent bombardment and government advances on Misraba prompted an ongoing wave of displacement from the town and its surrounding area, sources on the ground told Syria Direct.

Damage from an airstrike in Misraba on March 1. Photo courtesy of Ghouta Media Center.

Fleeing residents are heading either north, to East Ghouta’s de facto capital city of Douma, or to towns further south.

“People don’t know where to go,” Abu Muhammad, a Misraba-based member of the Civil Defense, told Syria Direct on Tuesday. He estimated that as many as half of the town’s 40,000 residents had fled in recent weeks.

A humanitarian aid convoy reached East Ghouta for the first time in weeks on Monday, but was forced to return to Damascus before all supplies were unloaded due to “constant shelling and ongoing fighting,” Ingy Sedky, an ICRC spokeswoman told Syria Direct on Tuesday.

As a result, 10 of the 46 trucks that arrived in East Ghouta carrying food and medical supplies for an estimated 27,500 people could not be unloaded. The Syrian government also seized a large portion of the aid convoy’s medical supplies before it entered East Ghouta on Monday, Syria Direct reported at the time.

“We know for sure that what we brought yesterday was not enough for the people of East Ghouta,” said Sedky.

Ammar Hamou

Ammar Hammou is from Douma city in outer Damascus. He studied journalism at Damascus University and left Syria in 2011.

Justin Clark

Justin studied Arabic at Western Michigan University. He continued his studies at Bethlehem University in the West Bank and the Qasid Institute in Jordan. Justin's work and studies have taken him to Jordan, the West Bank, Egypt and Greece.

Amani al-Khaldi

Amani is from Homs and fled the war in Syria in 2013. In Jordan, she studied business management and volunteered for a number of organizations that provide refugees with assistance. She joined the Syria Direct to develop her journalism skills and follow her passion for the field.