Syrian forces clash with rebels in Ghouta

Published May 4th, 2015 - 06:06 GMT
Fighting between regime forces and rebel groups has raged in the Ghouta suburbs for years as regime forces attempt to regain control of a key supply route there. (AFP/File)
Fighting between regime forces and rebel groups has raged in the Ghouta suburbs for years as regime forces attempt to regain control of a key supply route there. (AFP/File)

Syrian forces went on the offensive Sunday against rebels in the Ghouta suburbs of the capital, while schools in rebel-held parts of Aleppo announced they would close after the latest deadly barrel bomb attack, which killed at least seven people. Heavy fighting raged in and around the town of Maydaa between Syrian government forces and rebels. Maydaa is a key supply route out of the sprawling eastern Ghouta, which has long been under regime siege.

State news agency SANA said army troops had “gained full control” of Maydaa and farms in the surrounding area. The Observatory said government forces had captured a majority of the town but that fighting was still taking place after rebel groups launched a counterattack.

“The regime has cut off the last main road for rebels leading out of Eastern Ghouta,” said Rami Abdel-Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Abdel-Rahman said army units had taken over almost all of the village of Maydaa, which lies along a road running east which rebels use to bring food and reinforcements into besieged neighborhoods.

He told AFP rebels could still rely on a few small roads that lead out of Eastern Ghouta but added that they were “very dangerous.”

He said clashes were underway in Maydaa between regime forces and the Islam Army, the most powerful rebel group operating in the area.

Islam Army spokesman Islam Alloush said Syrian troops tried to overrun Maydaa but were “ambushed” by the rebels. “Clashes are still underway but if the army succeeds in taking Maydaa they could use it as a launchpad to storm Eastern Ghouta,” he told AFP by telephone from Turkey.

Islam Army fighters last year chased the jihadi group ISIS from Maydaa and have held it since.

Also, a journalist for the state-run Syrian Satellite Channel, Karim al-Sheibani, was wounded in the leg while covering developments in eastern Ghouta, the state news agency said. It said Sheibani was now receiving treatment in a hospital.

In Aleppo, a local media activist group and the Observatory reported that the strike hit the Saif al-Dawla neighborhood.

The Observatory said seven people were killed, including four children. The Aleppo Media center put the death toll at more than 10 and said around 20 people were wounded. Differences in death tolls are common in the chaotic aftermath of attacks in Syria.

In one video posted on the Aleppo Media Center’s Facebook page, rescuers carried a young boy and a man both badly bloodied and covered in dust – to a waiting ambulance. The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other Associated Press reporting. In next-door Idlib province, anti-regime activists accused the regime of conducting airstrikes using chlorine gas on several villages over the weekend.

The villages of Kansafra, Iblin and Jozef were targeted Sunday, they said, leading to an unspecified number of cases of breathing problems. The Idlib villages of Saraqeb and Neirab were targeted Saturday, they added, while rebel shelling of a regime-held neighborhood in the city of Aleppo killed 15 people, nine from the same family.

Also Saturday, U.S.-led strikes targeting ISIS militants killed at least 52 civilians in Aleppo province, the Observatory said. Abdel-Rahman told AFP that seven children were among the dead in the village of Birmahle.

Kurdish militiamen and Syrian rebel fighters were clashing with ISIS jihadis in a town roughly 2 kms away from Birmahle at the time of the strikes.

“Not a single ISIS fighter” was killed in the strikes on Birmahle, Abdel-Rahman said, adding that the village was inhabited only by civilians and there was no ISIS presence.

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