Fierce fighting to the east of Damascus has killed more than 160 people in the past two days as Syrian rebels struggle to break a months-long blockade by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, activists said on Sunday.
It began on Friday when rebel units attacked a string of military checkpoints encircling the opposition-held suburbs in an area known as Eastern Ghouta, which has been under siege for over six months.
Local and international aid workers say Assad’s forces appeared to be trying to starve out residents — indiscriminately affecting civilians as much as rebel fighters. The blockade has cut off rebels’ weapons supplies and helped turn the tide of fighting around the capital in Assad’s favour.
The battle has also drawn in hundreds of foreign fighters on both sides, underlining how Syria’s civil war has stirred Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian tensions across the region. “It is a ferocious fight between the two sides because it’s a struggle over our ultimate fate here,” said Bara Abdelrahman, a media activist with the rebel Islam Army brigades in the area.