Syrian government launches fierce assault in eastern Ghouta

A Syrian regime member walks amid the destruction in Jobar in Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of the capital Damascus. In the south of the capital Syrian regime forces and allied militias have been gathering ahead of a planned operation against ISIL. Lou

Violence broke out in and around a rebel-held town near the capital Damascus on Friday killing at least two people after almost two weeks of calm signaling an apparent collapse of a truce and an evacuation deal for opposition fighters to leave the area, state media and opposition activists said.

Syrian rebel group Jaish al-Islam accused government forces on Saturday of dropping a barrel bomb containing poisonous chemicals on civilians in eastern Ghouta, injuring more than 500 people.

State news agency SANA said the suspension was the result of disagreements within the Army of Islam rebel group, adding that buses that entered Douma for the evacuations on Thursday returned without passengers.

The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said government forces captured several farms Saturday on the southern and western edges of the city that is home to tens of thousands of people.

The Army of Islam has never publicly confirmed the agreement, and is said to be divided on whether to leave Douma, with hard-liners wanting to stay and fight. Many more people had stayed, fearing what might follow departure from home towns they had not abandoned through seven years of war.On Friday, the buses stopped.Speaking before the airstrikes, the medical worker said he had chose to stay because his work was not finished. A ground assault then sliced the area into three isolated pockets, each held by different rebel factions.

Russian-backed government forces launched their offensive against eastern Ghouta in February.

The air and ground offensive on Eastern Ghouta has killed more than 1,600 civilians and caused an worldwide outcry.

The renewed raids appear to be an attempt to pressure Jaish al-Islam - the Islamist group that holds the town - to agree to the regime's terms of a withdrawal.

Reports suggest the Jaish al-Islam rebels remaining in the city are increasingly split on the question of evacuating.

A week long ceasefire had been in place while Jaish al-Islam held talks on the possible withdrawal from Douma.

The first two were evacuated under Russian-brokered deals last month that saw more than 46,000 rebels and civilians bussed to opposition-held Idlib province in the northwest.

There are tens of thousands of people estimated to be living in Douma, according to Reuters.

Leading Jaish al-Islam commander Mohammed Alloush told AFP that the Syrian regime were to blame for the collapse of the talks.

A steady trickle of buses had been carrying residents from Douma for nearly a week, apparently under the terms of an agreement struck between Jaish al-Islam and Russian Federation.

It remains unclear exactly why the talks between Moscow and Jaish al-Islam have faltered.

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