Clashes Continue in Damascus Suburbs as Government Moves to End Siege
Fierce clashes continued in the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus on Thursday as pro-government forces pushed to free dozens of Syrian troops besieged by rebels at a military installation, a war monitor reported.
The United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said that heavy fighting broke out as Syrian troops and allied fighters moved to end a rebel siege of the Military Vehicles Administration in Harasta suburb.
Insurgents had widened their control over the installation on Sunday, trapping some 200 Syrian soldiers inside the facility, Reuters said this week.
According to the SOHR, clashes around the military bases were accompanied by relentless government shelling.
The monitoring group said that at least 76 rebels have been killed in fighting with government forces since last Friday; at least 48 pro-government fighters were killed in the same period.
Meanwhile, the government has escalated its airstrike campaign against the Eastern Ghouta suburbs, as battles drag on.
Syrian Government Pushes Deeper Into Idlib
Pro-government forces have pushed deeper into the only province in Syria under complete opposition control.
The Syrian army and allied forces drove insurgent rebels, including the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance, from around 10 towns and villages in Idlib’s southeastern countryside on Thursday, according to the SOHR.
Government forces are now just 2.5 miles (4 km) away from the strategic town of Sinjar in eastern Idlib. The SOHR said Sinjar is important because it can be used by pro-government forces to launch future operations in the Idlib countryside.
The government’s push in Idlib coincides with intensified airstrikes and artillery attacks. Citing rescue workers, Reuters said on Thursday that at least 50 civilians have been killed in the last 20 days of stepped-up aerial strikes on residential areas.
“There have been at least six major massacres perpetrated by Russia in indiscriminate bombing of cities and towns with thousands fleeing their homes in the last two weeks,” Mustafa al Haj Yousef, the head of Idlib’s Civil Defense, told the agency.
Russia Acknowledges Death of Servicemen
Russia on Thursday confirmed that two of its servicemen had been killed in a rebel attack on one of its bases on Dec. 31, but denied reports that the offensive destroyed seven aircraft, Agence France-Presse reported.
“As darkness fell, the Hmeimim air base was subjected to sudden mortar shelling from a mobile group of militants. As a result, two servicemen were killed,” Russia’s defense ministry said in a statement cited by AFP.
The statement comes after Kommersant, a Russian daily, published a report alleging that rebel shelling of Russia’s Hmeimim airbase on New Year’s Eve had destroyed seven warplanes and injured 10 Russian servicemen.
Moscow dismissed the Kommersant report as “fake,” AFP said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Moscow announced that two Russian pilots died when their helicopter crashed, also on Dec. 31, because of a technical failure, AFP said.
“With four fatalities this is one of the deadliest single days for the Russian army in Syria since it entered the conflict,” AFP said.
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