Syrian regime's blitz of Eastern Ghouta

AFP , Tuesday 3 Apr 2018

The Syrian government unleashed a ferocious assault on the then-rebel stronghold of Eastern Ghouta on February 18, aiming to crush Islamist and jihadist groups on the doorstep of the capital.

The onslaught has killed more than 1,600 civilians, many of them children, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.

After weeks of attacks, rebels and their families started evacuating last month under deals overseen by regime-ally Russia that have now allowed the government to take control of 95 percent of the enclave.

Here is a recap of what has happened:

Government forces open their campaign with intense air raids and a barrage of more than 260 rockets fired into several areas of Eastern Ghouta, under siege since 2013.

The strikes continue on February 19 when 127 civilians are killed.

On February 20 Russian air strikes reportedly target the enclave for the first time in three months. The following day raids batter several areas and aircraft drop crude barrel bombs.

UN chief Antonio Guterres says the region's residents are living in "hell on Earth".

On February 22 Syria's UN representative Bashar al-Jaafari confirms the plan is for rebel fighters and their families to withdraw to allow the government to take control, as happened in the war-shattered second city of Aleppo in December 2016.

Two days later the UN Security Council unanimously adopts a resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire to allow for aid deliveries and medical evacuations.

But air strikes and shelling continue, including with claims of a chlorine gas attack.

On February 26 Moscow announces a daily five-hour "humanitarian pause" and the opening of protected corridors to allow people to leave.

There is more fighting, making relief operations impossible.

A first attempt to deliver aid is made on March 5 but is cut short by heavy shelling. On March 9 food aid is distributed in the enclave's largest town, Douma, despite the bombardment.

The following day the regime cuts off Douma from the rest of the enclave, splintering remaining rebel-held territory into three parts.

On March 13 the first medical evacuations take place, with some 150 people including sick and wounded bussed out.

On March 15 Russia indicates it will continue to back President Bashar al-Assad's offensive. "Russia is morally complicit and responsible for Assad's atrocities," the Pentagon replies.

Assad visits troops in Ghouta on March 18 and praises them for having "saved the capital". The bombings continue.

The UN humanitarian coordinator in Syria condemns the "tragic" living conditions of the displaced in makeshift shelters.

On March 22 rebels and their families begin leaving Ghouta's devastated town of Harasta under a first deal reached between Russia and a rebel group, Ahrar al-Sham.

Nearly 4,000 people are bussed to the rebel-dominated province of Idlib.

On March 25 Russia brokers a deal with another faction, Faylaq al-Rahman which controls the towns of Zamalka and Arbin as well as the Damascus neighbourhood of Jobar.

More than 41,000 rebels and civilians are evacuated to Idlib.

On April 1 an evacuation deal is reportedly reached for the last pocket of Ghouta, held by the group Jaish al-Islam which controls Douma.

The rebels do not confirm the agreement, amid reports of divisions, but state media says on April 2 that fighters and members of their families have started leaving Douma.

Around 150,000 civilians have also fled to government-held areas in a month, according to Syrian state media.

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