Syrian government forces divided the eastern Ghouta enclave outside Damascus into two, pro-government media said Sunday, dealing a major setback to rebels and threatening to exacerbate an already dire humanitarian situation at the doors of the nation’s capital.
A military media outlet linked to the Syrian army and its Lebanese allies of the militant Hezbollah group said pro-government forces broke through rebel lines to establish a corridor through the besieged eastern Ghouta region.
It followed 22 days of intensive ground and air assaults on rebels and civilians trapped inside eastern Ghouta, which have killed over 1,000 people according to monitoring and rights groups.
Residents have been crowding into basements in towns across the enclave to shelter from the ferocious and indiscriminate bombardment. The international medical charity Doctors Without Borders said 15 of the 20 hospitals and clinics it supports have been damaged.
The enclave has now been split in two, with one side measuring 27 square kilometers (10 square miles) and the other 22 (8 square miles), according to Central Military Media.
Earlier Sunday, Russia’s military said 52 civilians were able to leave eastern Ghouta for safety in government-held territory outside.
Maj. Gen. Vladimir Zolotukhin of the Russian center for reconciliation of Syria’s warring parties said the evacuees would receive “all necessary assistance” within two days, according to Russian news agencies. There were 26 children among the evacuees, according to their reports.
They were the first recorded civilian evacuations from eastern Ghouta since government forces outlined a humanitarian corridor for escape more than one week ago. But there has been no let up to the shelling or bombardment to allow civilians to move.
Russia and the Syrian government accused rebels of blocking civilians from fleeing.
The U.N. estimates there are 400,000 civilians trapped in the siege.