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Syrian Troops Launch Assault on Last Rebel Enclave in Ghouta 


Buses carrying Jaish al-Islam fighters and their families, from the former rebel bastion's main town of Douma, arrive in the Syrian town of Azaz, April 5, 2018, on their way to a refugee camp.

Syrian troops have launched a ground and air assault on the last rebel-held town in eastern Ghouta, killing at least 40 people, according to monitors.

State television showed live footage Friday of thick smoke billowing from different parts of Douma, the largest city in Ghouta. It said Republican Guard forces were pushing in on the town, where the Jaish al-Islam rebel group is holding out.

The fighting comes after other rebel groups in Ghouta accepted safe passage to rebel-held areas northeast of Aleppo.

Russia said last week that Jaish al-Islam accepted a deal to leave Ghouta, which houses tens of thousands of people. However, the evacuations stalled over reports that the rebel group remained divided over the withdrawal.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war, said the 40 dead in Friday’s offensive included eight children.

It said some of the air attacks were likely carried out by Russian warplanes and said dozens of airstrikes hit various parts of the city.

State news agency SANA said Jaish al-Islam launched mortar shells around the capital, Damascus, hitting several suburbs of the city and killing four people. A rebel spokesman denied the group targeted any Damascus neighborhoods.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the renewed outbreak of fighting in Douma “is of great concern to us.”

The violence comes after nearly two weeks of calm in Ghouta, an enclave on the eastern edge of Damascus. In February, Syria’s government and its ally Russia launched an air and ground offensive on eastern Ghouta, killing more than 1,600 civilians.

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