Pentagon Head Warns Syrian Forces on Use of Chemical Weapons

US President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis

Evacuations have taken place in other parts of Syria, where fighters and civilians have withdrawn to rebel territory near the Turkish border.

The Syrian regime has vowed to continue the offensive in Eastern Ghouta, one of the deadliest in the war.

Backed by Russian Federation, the advance has battered Eastern Ghouta with air strikes, artillery and rocket fire, raising widespread worldwide concern and prompting urgent calls for a ceasefire.

The White House said last week Russian military aircraft took off from Humaymim Airfield in Syria and carried out at least 20 daily bombing missions in Damascus and Eastern Ghouta between February 24 and 28.

The warning comes as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday that about 511,000 people had been killed since the Syrian war began seven years ago.

One man cowering in a heavily damaged shelter in Douma said: "It is completely uninhabitable".

Residents were seen queueing at a butcher shop, whose owner had slaughtered a calf that he could fatten up no further because there was nothing left to feed it.

Repeated efforts by world powers to secure ceasefires or political settlements to the conflict have failed.

Children are at more risk than ever in Syria's devastating conflict, the United Nations said Monday as the war approached its eighth year. The ferocity of the assault has prompted condemnation from Western countries and calls from United Nations agencies for a ceasefire.

The government forces also isolated the key rebel bastion in Douma district, where the Islam Army, the major rebel group in Eastern Ghouta, is positioned.

More than 35 civilians have been killed in rebel fire on government-controlled zones in Damascus and its outskirts since the start of the Ghouta offensive, according to the Observatory.

Activists and locals raised alarm on Monday, saying more than 30,000 people under siege in the town of Harasta in Eastern Ghouta may be facing a "genocide" after the Syrian army split the rebel enclave on Sunday.

Government forces have now captured more than half the rebel enclave, entirely besieging Douma and the large town of Harasta, cutting them off from each other and neighbouring areas with advances on Saturday and Sunday.

The agreement would offer safe passage to rebels and civilians who wanted to leave and the town would come under government control.

Mr Guterres said progress was made, including an agreement that saw the evacuation of a number of members of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an al-Qaeda-linked jihadist alliance that was previously known as al-Nusra Front.

Eastern Ghouta, a 105-square-km agricultural region consisting of several towns and farmlands, poses the last threat to the capital due to its proximity to government-controlled neighborhoods east of Damascus and ongoing mortar attacks that target residential areas in the capital, pushing people over the edge.

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