Syrian army captures largest town in Eastern Ghouta

Syrian forces captured the largest town in Eastern Ghouta, the latest move in a campaign that has had a mounting death toll since it began Feb. 25.

A March 9, 2018, view of Douma in Eastern Ghouta, Syria. The area has been under siege by the government since mid-2013 after armed opposition groups took control. Since this latest conflict began in February, almost 1,000 people have been killed. Photo by Mohammed Badra/EPA-EFE
A March 9, 2018, view of Douma in Eastern Ghouta, Syria. The area has been under siege by the government since mid-2013 after armed opposition groups took control. Since this latest conflict began in February, almost 1,000 people have been killed. Photo by Mohammed Badra/EPA-EFE

On Friday, at least 49 people, including 14 women and 10 children were killed and 200 more were injured, according to the Syrian American Medical Society.

As the Syrian Arab Army, loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, took control in the East Ghouta region, it captured several buildings in the Harasta suburb after a short battle with Syrian rebels. Russian forces are conducting airstrikes over Harasta and Mesraba in support of the Syrian army.

The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said after government forces captured the town of Mesraba, which is about 6 miles east of Damascus, they advanced to surrounding farms. Opposition activists reported that roads connecting the towns were covered by army fire.

Eastern Ghouta, home to 400,000 people, is now divided into three parts: Douma and its surroundings, Harasta in the west, and the rest of the towns further south. Forces loyal to Assad have laid siege on the area since anti-government rebels took control in mid-2013.

Since this latest conflict began in February, almost 1,000 people have been killed, according to the observatory.

On Thursday, the Syrian government opened a new designated crossing area to allow Eastern Ghouta civilians to leave the area. Authorities also brought ambulances and buses to transport civilians out of the area to makeshift centers.

By Susan McFarland