Syrian troops pressure rebels in Ghouta as Turkey hammers Afrin
Beirut: Syrian troops have captured a major rebel stronghold east of the capital Damascus and taken large parts of another, squeezing insurgents and forcing thousands to flee to regions controlled by the government.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Oways al-Shami of the Syrian Civil Defence said troops have taken Kafr Batna and large parts of nearby Saqba.
The capture of Kafr Batna and parts of nearby Saqba on Saturday is another blow to opposition fighters who have lost more than 70 per cent of the area known as eastern Ghouta since the President Bashar Assad's forces began a crushing offensive under the cover of airstrikes on February 18.
The violence left nearly 1400 people dead, more than 5000 wounded and forced tens of thousands to seek shelter in areas under government control.
Syrian state news agency SANA said the army stepped up military operations in eastern Ghouta and inflicted "heavy losses on terrorist groups in personnel and military hardware". It said troops reached the centre of Kafr Batna and Saqba.
With the capture of Kafr Batna and parts of Saqba, rebels still control the towns of Arbeen, Zamalka, Ein Tarma and Jobar on the southern edge of eastern Ghouta.
"The world has betrayed us," said Ahmad Khanshour, a resident of eastern Ghouta, referring to the international community that could not do much to stop the offensive. "The world betrayed itself and the human values we all once shared."
He added that about 300,000 people are still besieged in eastern Ghouta, left to choose between "dying under fire or surrendering and go to Assad's jails and slaughterhouses".
The Observatory said 30 people were killed in a Saturday morning airstrike on Zamalka that hit a group of people trying to flee into government-controlled areas.
The violence came as thousands of people left eastern Ghouta and entered government-held parts of the region on Saturday, bringing to 47,000 the number of people who left the area over the past three days, according to Russia's Defence Ministry.
Syrian state-run al-Ikhbariyah TV aired live footage showing hundreds of men, women and children carrying their belongings and marching into the town of Hamouria that was recently captured by Syrian troops.
The station also showed a Syrian soldier meeting his mother and siblings for the first time in five years after they came out of eastern Ghouta. The soldier was seen kissing his mother who was weeping.
In other parts of the country, Turkey's military rejected allegations it bombed a hospital in Afrin in north-western Syria, where it's engaged in an offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters.
The military tweeted aerial footage and photographs of the town's general hospital it said were from Saturday morning, showing it was intact. The army said in a statement that the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, were trying to create a "negative perception" of the Turkish military.