Doha April 25 : Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Al Assad seized a strategic town east of Damascus yesterday, breaking a critical weapons supply route for the rebels, activists and fighters said.
Rebels have held several suburbs ringing the southern and eastern parts Damascus for months, but they have been struggling to maintain their positions against a ground offensive backed by fierce army shelling and air strikes in recent weeks.
“The disaster has struck, the army entered Otaiba. The regime has managed to turn off the weapons tap,” a fighter from the town said via Skype.
“The price of a bullet will go from 50 Syrian pounds to 1,000 Syrian pounds ($10) now, but we must pay and retake it. It’s the main if not the only route.”
Rebels said they pulled out of Otaiba, a gateway to the eastern rural suburbs of Damascus known as Al Ghouta, in the early hours after more than 37 days of fighting in which they accused the government of using chemical weapons against them twice.
The government has denied using chemical weapons and accused rebels in turn of firing them in Aleppo.
Rebels used Otaiba for eight months as their main supply route to Damascus for weapons brought in from the Jordanian border, where Saudi Arabia and other private donors are believed to be sending in arms.
Government forces pushed in with tanks and soldiers.
“Now all the villages will start falling one after another, the battle in Eastern Ghouta will be a war of attrition,” another fighter in the area said, speaking by Skype. More than two years into their struggle to end four decades of Assad family rule, the rebels remain divided by struggles over ideology and fighting for power
Rebels fighting in Otaiba said they sent a distress call to brigades in other parts of Ghouta but it went unanswered by other units with whom they compete for influence and weapons.
“To all mujahedeen: If Otaiba falls, the whole of Eastern Ghouta will fall … come and help ,” part of the message sent to fighters said.
Elsewhere in Damascus, two mortar bombs hit the government-held suburb of Jaramana, killing seven and wounding more than 25, activists and state media said. State news agency Sana blamed the attack on “terrorists”, the term it commonly uses to describe Assad’s armed opponents.
Meanwhile, the minaret of Aleppo’s ancient Umayyad mosque was destroyed yesterday, Syrian state media and a watchdog reported, with the regime and the opposition blaming each other.
An archaeological treasure in Aleppo’s Unesco-listed Old City, the mosque has been the centre of fighting for months and had already suffered extensive damage.
With insurgents and the regime caught in a stalemate in the key northern city, the ancient mosque has fallen in and out of rebel hands several times.
The Umayyad mosque was originally built in the 8th century but was apparently destroyed and then rebuilt in the 13th century.