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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Syria regime sends hundreds of troops to besieged Ghouta 

Syrian president Bashar Al Assad has sent hundreds of pro-regime fighters to reinforce his push for rebel-held Ghouta, a monitor said on Wednesday.

700 men were deployed to two main battlefronts on the western side of the enclave, including the town of Harasta.

"Afghan, Palestinian, and Syrian loyalist militiamen came from Aleppo and were sent late Tuesday to Ghouta," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Syrian state media says government forces will try to divide the besieged enclave in two.

The Observatory has said that 805 civilians - including at least 178 children - have been killed since Russia-backed regime forces launched an assault on the Damascus suburbs on February 18.

Heavy air strikes and clashes continued shaking the shrinking rebel enclave ahead of Wednesday's urgent UN Security Council meeting on the country's escalating violence.

The UN human rights chief said on Wednesday that another "apocalypse" orchestrated by the Syrian regime and its foreign allies will follow the devastating crisis unfolding in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta.

"This month, it is Eastern Ghouta which is, in the words of the Secretary General, hell on earth;next month or the month after, it will be somewhere else where people face an apocalypse - an apocalypse intended, planned and executed by individuals within the government, apparently with the full backing of some of their foreign supporters," Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said in his annual report to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Bombardment and clashes have persisted despite a month-long ceasefire demanded by the Security Council more than a week ago.

At least 24 civilians were killed on Tuesday, according to the Observatory.

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Government troops have advanced rapidly across farmland in Eastern Ghouta in the past week and had taken control of 40 percent of the enclave as of early Tuesday.

In its main town of Douma, air strikes have reduced homes to rubble on both sides of the road, an AFP correspondent reported.

Exhausted civil defence workers on Tuesday took advantage of a few hours of calm to dislodge the body of a resident, killed in bombardment several days ago, from a collapsed building.

Other civilians used the lull in air strikes to venture out from cellars to gather a few necessities from what was left of their homes.

Some gathered the pieces of furniture smashed in the raids to use as fuel or sell to their neighbours.

The raids came after around 18 people suffered breathing difficulties in the town following a strike there late on Monday, the Observatory reported.

It had no firm word on the cause.

Eastern Ghouta's 400,000 residents have lived under government siege since 2013, facing severe shortages of food and medicine even before the latest offensive began.

Forty-six aid trucks entered the area on Monday for the first time since the offensive started, but had to cut short their deliveries and leave due to heavy bombardment.

"The people we've met here have been through unimaginable things. They looked exhausted," Pawel Krzysiek of the International Committee of the Red Cross said afterwards.

"And the aid we've delivered today is by no means enough," he said on Twitter, ahead of another aid delivery planned for Thursday.

The UN Human Rights Council on Monday ordered investigators to examine the latest violence in the enclave.

It condemned "the indiscriminate use of heavy weapons and aerial bombardments against civilians, and the alleged use of chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta".

Eastern Ghouta is the last opposition bastion on the Syrian capital's doorsteps, and the regime is keen to retake it to secure Damascus.

Rebels there have fired waves of rockets and mortars toward eastern Damascus suburbs.

On Tuesday, three civilians were killed and eight wounded in mortar fire on the neighbourhood of Jarmana, according to state news agency SANA.

Regime ally Russia last week announced a five-hour daily "humanitarian pause" in the region, during which it said it would guarantee safe passage to civilians wishing to flee the enclave.

No Syrian civilians are known to have used the "humanitarian corridor".

Russia suffered its own heavy losses on Tuesday as the defence ministry said all 39 people on board a transport plane were killed when it crash landed at an airbase in western Syria.