Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad visited soldiers in the besieged province of Eastern Ghouta yesterday, as the civilian death toll from the continuous shelling on the suburb surpassed 1,400.
Posted on the President’s Telegram chat, photographs show Assad smiling among dozens of soldiers, some perched on tanks. “In the line of fire in Eastern Ghouta… President Assad with heroes of the Syrian Arab Army,” a caption of the photographs read.
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Assad and his wife Asma also motivated the troops during his visit as the regime continues to win ground from opposition groups. “Every tank driver who advances one metre forward has changed the political map of the world,” state news agency SANA reported Assad as saying.
Meanwhile, the civilian death toll in the Damascus suburb rose to 1,411, with thousands more injured, since an intensified bombing campaign began a month ago. An air and ground assault has split opposition-held areas into three shrinking pockets each held by different opposition groups. The regime has also used chemical weapons against civilians on multiple occasions, including the use of chlorine and napalm in an attack on the town of Hamouriyah last week.
A journalist in Eastern Ghouta told MEMO that a regime air strike hit a UN aid convoy in the town of Douma earlier today. Photos from the scene show boxes of aid destroyed, with their contents leaking out, amidst the rubble of surrounding buildings.
Last month the UN Security council voted unanimously in favour of a 30-day ceasefire across Syria, as rescuers in Ghouta said a week of perpetual bombing had not let up long enough for them to count bodies during one of the bloodiest air assaults of the seven-year war. However, heavy bombing has continued to take place.
Stalwart Syrian ally Russia has defended the ongoing campaign in Ghouta, despite continuous shelling preventing aid convoys from reaching the area, forcing many to turn back without unloading their cargo. The regime permitted some evacuations to take place in the northern pocket of the region since last week, with some 20,000 of the 400,000 civilians being permitted to escape.
Eastern Ghouta is also 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, with aid provision restricted, leaving the civilian population struggling to survive.
On Friday, the enclave’s main opposition groups Faylaq Al-Rahman, Jaish Al-Islam and Ahrar Al-Sham said they would be willing to hold direct UN-sponsored talks with regime backer Russia on a ceasefire.