Syrian government forces delivered another serious blow to eastern Ghouta Saturday after forces seized more ground, further isolating the Damascus suburb that has been controlled by rebel forces and under siege for five years.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Al Jazeera that government forces had captured the town of Mesraba, which lies 10km east of Damascus, and has made advances into nearby farmlands. That would split the area into three isolated parts — Douma, Harasta, and the rest of the towns further south — and it would be strategically devastating for Islamist rebels.
But Reuters reported a spokesman for Jaish al-Islam, one of the two main insurgent groups in eastern Ghouta, denied that it had fallen into government hands. He insisted Mesraba is still under rebel control and that Douma and Harasta are not cut off from one another.
Fighting has intensified over the past two weeks, adding to the destruction and devastation throughout the city. With the help of Russia, President Bashar al-Assad has employed an offensive that includes relentless air strikes and tight sieges to pressure rebels into "evacuation deals."
Additionally, aid groups trying to deliver food and medicine to the embattled area have had to retreat under fire.
NPR's Don Gonyea spoke with Mouaid El Deen Friday as exploding bombs went off the neighborhood around him.
Deen is a 29-year-old business who has been living with his family and a dozen others in his neighbors basement for the past 22 days. He told NPR the U.N. convoys delivering food and medical supplies had again come under government fire Friday.
"It is very inhuman to do," he said, referring to the governments strategy to keep humanitarian aid from reaching trapped civilians. It is especially agonizing for Deen whose daughter recently suffered an asthma attack.
Doctors without Borders says at least 1,000 people have been killed between Feb. 18 and March 4 and another 5,000 wounded.
As NPR's Ruth Sherlock reported, a U.N. call for a cease-fire has made little impact. Instead, residents of Ghouta continue to post photos and videos of the injured and of the dead, hoping that someone, somewhere can help.
Nearly 400,000 people have been trapped in eastern Ghouta since 2013 when insurgents first took over control and the government began its offensive to oust the rebels.