A clear strategy of the Syrian government’s offensive in Eastern Ghouta has been to divide the enclave into isolated sections and so cut off rebel support and supply networks, the BBC’s Arab Affairs editor Sebastian Usher says – and now the government appears to have all but achieved that goal.
The Syrian government has reportedly captured the central town of Misraba, and advanced onwards into surrounding farmland.
Misraba is located along a major road that links Douma, in the north, with another big town, Harasta, in the west.
If confirmed, the advance leaves the enclave divided into three – Douma and its surrounding towns in the north, western Harasta, and the rest of the territory in the south.
Syrian state television also said the army had splinted Eastern Ghouta, but a spokesman for one of the main rebel groups told Reuters neither Harasta nor Douma were cut off.
On Friday a UN convoy was able to successfully deliver aid to Eastern Ghouta, after previous deliveries were halted by shelling.
Some 400,000 people are still thought to live in the area, seven years into Syria’s civil war. It has been besieged by government forces since 2013.
Who are the rebels?
The rebels in Eastern Ghouta are not one cohesive group. They encompass multiple factions, including jihadists, and in-fighting between them has led to past losses of ground to the Syrian government.
The two largest groups are Jaish al-Islam and its rival Faylaq al-Rahman. The latter has in the past fought alongside HTS.
Media captionA short guide to the Syrian civil war
Eastern Ghouta is so close to Damascus that it is possible for rebels to fire mortars into the heart of the capital, which has led to scores of civilian deaths.
The Syrian government is desperate to regain the territory, and has said its attempts to recapture it can be attributed directly due to the HTS presence there. HTS was excluded from a ceasefire agreed at the UN that has yet to come into effect.
The group is an alliance of factions led by the Nusra Front, which sprang from al-Qaeda.