Regime edges closer to taking key East Ghouta town

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APOCALYPSE NOW: Syrian government forces supported by Iraqi militias launched surface-to-air missiles into the East Ghouta town of al-Mleiha in Outer Damascus Thursday, a day after the Syrian air force conducted 10 air strikes on the rebel-held town overlooking the road to Damascus International Airport.

For the Syrian government, the capture of al-Mleiha would prevent rebel shelling of the road to Damascus International Airport and the town of Jarmana, while putting government troops in position to advance into the central East Ghouta towns of Jisreen and Kafr Batna.

On Thursday, clashes continued north and east of the rebel-held town, a spokesperson for rebel group Feiliq a-Rahman told Syria Direct on Thursday. Mleiha lies six kilometers east of Damascus and 15 kilometers from the airport.

Iraqi Shiite militias reportedly fighting for the Assad regime include the Assad Allah al-Ghalib, Liwa Asa’id al-Haq and Liwa Kafil Zeinab brigades.

In recent fighting, government troops have slowly surrounded rebels, advancing from and consolidating control over the airport highway south of the town.

On social media, pro-government Syrians celebrated what they announced as the impending fall of al-Mleiha.

Al-Mleiha’s “safety will be announced shortly,” one user wrote, using hashtags for President Bashar al-Assad’s campaign slogan and the Syrian Arab Army.

Official government media did not comment on shelling in al-Mleiha, though pro-government Al-Hadath News reported the Syrian Army had “intensified” operations in al-Mleia and would shortly announce victory there, even as “dilapidated opposition militias attempted to regain territory.”

The violent fighting in al-Mleiha is not new: before government troops escalated attempts to seize the rebel stronghold in early April, rebels and government troops had already spent more than a year jockeying for the pre-war agricultural basket.

The battle in al-Mleiha “was the most violent in terms of clashes and shelling in the 30 days” since Syrian troops attacked the rebel stronghold, the pro-opposition Local Council of al-Mleiha reported Wednesday, as government troops “aim to complete their policy of outflanking [rebel groups].”

In October 2013, rebels scored a major victory when they seized the Tamiko Checkpoint just outside Mleiha, a pre-war medicine factory regime forces had used to control movement from Kafr Batna, Jisreen and the orchards surrounding the towns.

Rebel groups operating in the town include Feiliq a-Rahman, the Douma Martyrs Brigade and the Islamic Union of Soldiers of the Sham.

-May 29, 2014

Photo courtesy of Lens Young Mlehani.

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