Regime seizes two towns from rebels in Syria's Ghouta: monitor


Beirut (AFP)

Syria's regime retook two more towns in Eastern Ghouta on Saturday, a war monitor said, pressing an offensive to capture the rebel enclave on the doorstep of Damascus.

Government forces seized Kafr Batna and Sabqa in the south of the enclave, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, as thousands of civilians fled into regime-held territory.

Russia-backed regime forces have retaken more than 80 percent of the last opposition bastion outside the capital since launching a blistering air and ground offensive on February 18, the Observatory says.

The assault has split opposition-held areas into three shrinking pockets each held by different rebels.

The southern pocket is held by the Faylaq al-Rahman rebel group, which the Observatory says counts some 8,000 fighters in its ranks.

After Saturday's advance, the group now controls just a handful of areas, the monitor says: Arbin -- the largest -- as well as Zamalka, Hazeh, Ain Tarma and parts of the Damascus neighbourhood of Jobar.

Thousands of civilians streaming out of the enclave into regime-held areas on Saturday came mostly from this southern sector, it said.

On Friday, the enclave's main rebel 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.

More than 1,400 civilians have been killed since the regime offensive began, the Observatory says, while tens of thousands more have fled.

Jaish al-Islam controls an area around the main town of Douma in the north of the former enclave, while Ahrar al-Sham holds influence in the area of the town of Harasta to the west.