Smoke billows from Syrian government bombardment on the rebel-controlled town of Arbin, in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on Sunday. Photo: AFP
The Syrian army and rebel groups fought fierce battles early on Sunday on a critical front in eastern Ghouta where government advances have in effect splintered the insurgent enclave near Damascus into three.
State television on Sunday broadcast from the edge of the eastern Ghouta town of Mudeira, where an army field commander told Reuters pro-Syrian government forces had arrived earlier in the day.
Footage showed several massive plumes of smoke in the distance behind a war-ravaged townscape with big holes in walls and roofs, and yet more smoke wafting across the streets. The sound of blasts could be heard.
More than 1,100 civilians have been killed in the onslaught on the biggest rebel stronghold since it began three weeks ago with a withering bombardment, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
It said there's intense fighting on several fronts accompanied by a government artillery barrage, continuous air raids and attacks by helicopters.
The advance on Mudeira, after the capture of the neighboring town of Mesraba on Saturday, has driven a wedge deep inside the insurgent territory, leaving the major towns of Douma and Harasta all but cut off.
Rebel groups in eastern Ghouta have vowed they will fight on. A statement issued by Free Syrian Army factions there late on Saturday said they had taken a decision not to accept a surrender and negotiated withdrawal.
After the army advances split up the enclave, Jaish al-Islam emerged as the strongest group in the town of Douma, Ahrar al-Sham in the town of Harasta and Failaq al-Rahman in the new southern pocket of eastern Ghouta.
Syrian state media also reported army advances near Jisreen and Aftaris in the southeastern part of the rebel-held territory.