Assad visits Eastern Ghouta as military continues bombardment

World Today

SYRIA-CONFLICT-GHOUTA-ASSADA handout picture released by the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency on March 18, 2018, shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (C) talking with government troops in Eastern Ghouta, in the leader’s first trip to the former rebel enclave outside Damascus in years. (AFP PHOTO / HO / SYRIAN PRESIDENCY)

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad Assad made an unannounced visit to Ghouta on Sunday. The Damascus suburb has been the scene of heavy fighting, and rebel leaders are pursuing peace talks after months of airstrikes and heavy bombardment.

CGTN’s Alaa Ebrahim has more.

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad met with Syrian army units on the frontlines of Ghouta. This was his first trip to the region in years.

Assad told soldiers that “every tank driver who advances one meter forward has changed the political map of the world.”

About 600 meters from where the president was standing, Syrian army units pressed ahead with their offensive taking the town of Saqba.

In the past month, Syrian military units backed by Russian and Syrian airstrikes have managed to advance in Eastern Ghouta, the last major insurgent bastion near Damascus. The Syrian military managed to slice the suburb into three separate parts. Syrian military officials told CGTN that government forces now control over 70 percent of rebel areas, and that more than 25,000 civilians have crossed into government safe areas.

The UN describes the situation of those still inside as “dire,” and says the humanitarian situation has worsened for those who remain trapped. The UN estimated the population of Ghouta at more than 400,000 when the offensive began. Government sources rejected the report and said the number is exaggerated. 

Meanwhile, according to Syrian state TV, Damascus had reportedly given rebels in one of the three zones in Ghouta until 3 P.M. on Sunday to surrender. Government sources say though the deadline is over, there is still room for talking.

Another rebel faction in control of the southern part of Ghouta says it is negotiating with the UN for a ceasefire. The region is controlled by Faylaq Al-Rahman, and is the closest to the capital.

Rebels say that surrendering and leaving isn’t an option, but a senior military source tells CGTN that the only option Damascus has on the table is a full rebel departure out of Ghouta.