Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has ordered his forces to push on with their campaign to retake rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, despite mounting international calls to end one of the fiercest assaults in the seven-years-long war. Regime forces have been bombarding from the air and ground the besieged area—located on the outskirts of Damascus—for two weeks, killing more than 650 civilians and injuring thousands more. Neither a daily five-hour “humanitarian pause” imposed by Russia—Assad’s main backer—nor a 30-day nationwide ceasefire agreed to by the United Nations Security Council have led to any relief for the citizens of the enclave, thus raising the prospect of yet another humanitarian disaster in the country. Assad’s forces have so far seized about 25 percent of Eastern Ghouta, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and are only 2 miles away from the key town of Douma. For its part, the United States on Sunday upped the pressure on Assad by condemning the “military offensive backed by Russia and Iran…[which has killed] innocent civilians under the false auspices of counter-terrorism operations.”
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