Evacuation of Syria's Douma suspended over disagreements

Evacuation of Syria's Douma suspended over disagreements

Syrian troops began a ground offensive under the cover of air strikes on rebel-held areas outside the capital Damascus on Friday after a 10-day truce collapsed over disagreement regarding evacuation of opposition fighters.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the 32 dead in Douma included five children and the air strikes were likely carried out by Russian war planes.

Moscow had announced a deal with Jaish al-Islam, the Islamist faction that holds the town, but hardliners within the group were reportedly refusing to leave their positions.

Violence resumed in and around Douma Friday afternoon after the main rebel group in the town placed new conditions on an evacuation deal that saw hundreds of fighters and civilians leave earlier this week.

The enclave on the eastern edge of Damascus had escaped government control since 2012 and although it had shrunk over the years, it still covered sizeable territory two months ago.

But Jaish al-Islam spokesman Hamza Bayraqdar in a statement late Friday denied that the group had targeted any Damascus neighbourhood. "There were 20 strikes in 15 minutes", Mohammed, a medic, told AFP from Douma on Friday.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said dozens of people had been injured.

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Syrian state TV said rebels fired mortar shells into Damascus killing two people and wounding others.

Russian-backed Syrian government forces launched their offensive against eastern Ghouta in February.

The daily air raids kept residents cowering in basements for weeks and a ground assault soon sliced the area into three isolated pockets, each held by different rebel factions.

By sunset Friday, artillery pieces, multiple rocket launchers and warplanes intensely pounded the city of Douma, which is home to tens of thousands of people.

Douma is the largest city in eastern Ghouta.

The top political figure in Jaish al Islam blamed Syria's global allies for the failure of the latest talks.

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.

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