Fighting intensifies in Syria enclave as rebels battle to retake territory

People go about their lives in the northwestern city of Azaz Syria during a Turkish government-organized media tour Saturday. Already in the sixth week of its offensive on the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin in northwestern Syria Turkey wants to oust the

Some of the heaviest fighting on Sunday was concentrated in the area of Beit Sawa on the eastern edge of the densely populated centre of eastern Ghouta, where civilians fled clashes between government forces and Jaysh al-Islam, one of three main rebel groups.

"The United States condemns the ongoing military offensive that the Assad regime, backed by Russian Federation and Iran, is perpetrating against the people of Eastern Ghouta", the White House said in a statement on Sunday.

The Syrian army said in a statement Sunday that the fighting is ongoing in Eastern Ghouta out of the time of the partial daily humanitarian pause, which has so far failed to allow people to evacuate, with the government blaming the rebels of targeting those who want to flee Eastern Ghouta.

The Observatory estimated that between 300 to 400 families, which is likely several thousand people, had fled areas seized by government forces since Saturday.

A local reporter told NHK that government forces began burning some areas a few days ago, and local residents are facing extreme conditions.

A civil defence volunteer, known as the White Helmets, checks the site of a regime air strike in the rebel-held town of Saqba, in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region.

At least 76 pro-government fighters and 43 rebels from Jaish al-Islam have also been killed in clashes since 25 February, it says. The number of victims is expected to rise, if fighting escalates in densely populated areas.

Almost 600 people have been killed and more than 2,000 injured since the assault began three weeks ago, said the UN. "Militants continue daily shelling of Damascus' dwelling quarters and suburbs from missile and mortar systems", he said.

No civilians have exited through a humanitarian corridor set up by Russian Federation and the Syrian government almost a week ago.

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On Saturday, 18 civilians, including three children, were killed in regime bombardment of Eastern Ghouta, according to the Observatory.

The rebels say the humanitarian corridor is part of government efforts to forcibly displace the population, and have called on government forces to implement a full cease-fire adopted by the U.N. Security Council.

"Instead of a much-needed reprieve, we continue to see more fighting, more death, and more disturbing reports of hunger and hospitals being bombed", Moumtzis said in a statement.

Earlier, a United Nations official in Syria told Reuters a humanitarian convoy carrying life-saving supplies would not enter eastern Ghouta as had been planned on Sunday, citing a lack of permission. "This collective punishment of civilians is simply unacceptable", he added.

The convoy of some 40 trucks had been due to go to Douma in the regime-besieged enclave near Damascus, where some 400,000 people need food, medical and other supplies, the United Nations says.

Damascus and Moscow have accused rebels of preventing civilians from leaving.

"We hope that the convoy may proceed as planned and will be followed by other convoys", said Ali Al-Za'tari, the UN's Syria Humanitarian Coordinator.

The 30-day cessation of hostilities does not apply to the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS, ISIL), Al-Nusra Front or any other terrorist groups.

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