06:17 GMT +319 December 2018
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    A humanitarian corridor between Damascus and East Ghouta near the Al Wafidin refugee camp in Syria

    Thousands of Syrians Flee Damascus Due to Intense Militant Shelling

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    In response to the Syrian Army’s offensive in Damascus’ east Ghouta pocket, Islamist militants have intensified shelling on areas of the city under the government’s control, deliberately targeting cafes, restaurants, schools and residential areas, in addition to governmental buildings.

    Local sources reported to Sputnik reporter Suliman Mulhem that “thousands of residents” have fled the city with their families over the past week, heading towards Syria’s coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartus.

    Those who have fled are likely to avoid the capital until the Syrian Army dislodges militants from the entirety of Damascus.

    Although some have fled to safety, the vast majority of Damascus’ inhabitants – which includes hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Syrians – have no choice but to stay in the city and face the daily barrage of militant rocket fire.

    ​Militants have regularly launched mortars and other munitions at Damascus since the early years of the conflict, but the intensity of the current level of shelling is unprecedented.

    READ MORE: Syrian Army Victory in Ghouta Would Be 'Like a Second Aleppo' – Military Analyst

    The Syrian government has reported a sharp increase in casualties sustained from such terror attacks, but a number of Damascenes told Sputnik they believe the government is underreporting casualties to contain and reduce the “atmosphere of panic.”

    Despite the government’s best-efforts to keep life going in Damascus, they briefly closed a number of schools in late February, as they couldn’t guarantee the safety of their pupils due to relentless and deliberate rocket attacks on the schools.

    Operation Damascus Steel

    The Syrian Army and other allied ground forces have been mobilizing troops for this offensive – name operation Damascus Steel – since early February, deploying 18,000-23,000 soldiers to the area.

    The offensive is being spearheaded by elements of the elite fourth Armored Division and Republican Guard. Other units of the Syrian Army are also partaking in this operation, in addition to local volunteers from the National Defense Force (NDF).

    Large amounts of armor and artillery pieces – including a number of T-90 tanks, infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) of the BMP series, and TOS-1 multiple rocket launches – have also been deployed to east Ghouta to assist shock troops in their ongoing offensive.

    In less than two weeks, the Syrian Army has liberated around 30 percent of east Ghouta and is close to splitting the area into two pockets.

    East Ghouta’s Strategic Value

    Speaking to Sputnik News, military analyst and mapmaker Peto Lucem discussed the strategic importance of east Ghouta.

    “Before the proxy war, east Ghouta was one of the main areas offering air protection to the Syrian capital. When it fell to the jihadists, most of the air defense and radar systems were demounted. There are reports suggesting the Syrian Army’s High Command plans to redeploy these assets as soon the region is back under government control. This would make air attacks on targets near and in Damascus more difficult,” Mr Lucem told Sputnik.

    READ MORE: Liberation of E Ghouta Will Deal a Heavy Blow to Terrorist Sponsors – Analyst

    He stated that the liberation of this area will prevent militants from shelling Damascus, making the capital significantly more secure.
    Mr Lucem then went on to outline another way the Syrian Army will benefit from east Ghouta’s liberation.

    “The retaking of east Ghouta will free up approximately 20,000 soldiers for redeployment. These can be used to strengthen the Syrian Army’s positions in other parts of the country or to retake areas which are still under militant control, such as parts of the Deraa or Quneitra governorates near the Israeli border,” Mr Lucem added.

    Additionally, thousands of Syrians trapped in the area by militants will be freed, and can start rebuilding their lives with assistance from local authorities.

    The views and opinions expressed by Peto Lucem are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    Related:

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    Militants in E Ghouta Shell Damascus: 15 Reportedly Injured, Three Killed
    Syrian Army Opens Humanitarian Corridor for Militants in E Ghouta - Russian MoD
    Tags:
    terrorists, civilians, Syrian crisis, Syrian Arab Army, Eastern Ghouta, Syria, Ghouta, Latakia, Tartus
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