The Syrian regime is preparing for a ground offensive on the besieged Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta following days of heavy shelling, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
President Bashar Al-Assad has reportedly been sending reinforcements to the area since the start of the month ahead of a potential ground push against the last opposition stronghold near the capital.
"The reinforcements are complete; the attack is just waiting for a green light," said monitor head, Rami Abdel Rahman, on Sunday.
Over 100 people in Ghouta were killed yesterday after an intensified assault by regime and Russian forces. Some 500 have been injured over the past three days with civilian neighbourhoods and hospitals being struck. The province was also hit by a chemical attack at the end of last month.
Photos from the ground show the bodies of dozens of civilians, with many activists and journalists taking to Twitter to raise awareness of the ongoing bombardment.
Here is a picture of 14 innocent Syrian men, women and children. All wrapped in blood-soaked white sheets. They were all killed in today's heavy regime strikes on the rebel-held town of Hamouriyah, e- Ghouta. pic.twitter.com/vuru0WpG5v
— Sakir Khader (@sakirkhader) February 19, 2018
Aid organisations have repeatedly warned of the humanitarian disaster unfolding in the besieged enclave; the UN has called for an immediate ceasefire and a month-long truce to allow relief to be delivered to patients and those who have been wounded.
According to pro-regime media, negotiations between opposition factions and the Syrian government are currently underway over the evacuation of certain opposition fighters from the enclave, in an effort to spare the region a full attack.
Syrian news agency Zaman Al-Wasl reports that the brigades deployed around the province rely heavily on Russian support, particularly the Russian air force, to the extent that Al-Dumayr Military Airport, from which attacks on the province are launched, is now entirely under the influence of Russia.
Eastern Ghouta is one of four de-escalation zones established last May by Russia, Iran and Turkey in order to stem the bloodshed of Syria's six-year civil war. However, the region has experienced near constant bombardment for many months, despite such attacks being expressly forbidden by the terms of the agreement.
The province is also suffering from a tightening of the blockade imposed since 2013, after an offensive by the Syrian regime earlier this year cut underground smuggling routes that formerly allowed civilians access to food, fuel and medicine. Some 400,000 civilians have been left struggling to survive.
Following a plea from the UN for the Syrian regime to allow the 500 most severe medical casualties to evacuate Ghouta, Al-Assad allowed aid agencies to transport patients to Damascus at the end of December. However, the evacuations were deemed complete less than a week later after only 29 patients had been transferred.