Syrian army gains ground in eastern Ghouta

Delegation from Syria rebel enclave mulls evacuation deal

A second convoy with desperately needed aid for the besieged rebel-held eastern suburbs of Damascus was postponed on Thursday because of the violence and a rapidly evolving situation on the ground, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

An AFP correspondent inside Douma said shelling and air strikes were rocking the town on Saturday.

"We were taken aback by the fighting that broke out despite guarantees from the parties involved in this conflict that humanitarians could enter Douma, in eastern Ghouta", ICRC's Regional Director for the Near and Middle East, Robert Mardini said.

The enclave's 400,000 inhabitants have been living under government siege since 2013, with food and medicines in very short supply even before the latest assault.

The report from the UK-based human rights group, which said both Douma and the smaller nearby town of Harasta were surrounded and cut off, was disputed by locals, but such an outcome seems inevitable in any event as the regime presses its advantage, backed by both Syrian and Russian airstrikes.

Doctors and nurses in the enclave have run out of several life-saving items, according to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which reported a "terrible medical catastrophe".

"The need for a massive medical re-supply, without life-saving items being removed, is increasingly urgent with each passing hour", MSF said in a statement.

Tens of thousands of people have fled further into the enclave in the face of the warfare, a United Nations official said on Thursday, and residents of Douma said shelters are crowded with the new arrivals. "But reach safety where?" he said in an interview in Beirut.

Russia's military has said it is playing a key role supporting the assault on eastern Ghouta to combat "terrorists" hiding there and threatening Damascus.

Keen to secure Damascus, government troops and allied militias have been closing in on the enclave since February 18 and have overrun more than half of it.

They are now seeking to cut off Douma from rebel-held territory further south, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Aid agencies have tried to deliver aid into eastern Ghouta, but they have only been able to bring in a portion of the amount they wanted as Takfiri militants continue to bomb areas around the besieged enclave.

The UN has called it "hell on earth".

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