Airstrikes return to Syria's Ghouta killing 40 civilians as talks sputter

Buses carrying Jaish al Islam fighters from Douma arrive in the town of Azaz

State news agency SANA reported late Friday that the shelling on government-held Damascus killed four and wounded 22 others.

Meanwhile, the state-run al-Ekhbariah TV said the Syrian Air Force and artillery started pounding the defense lines of the Islam Army as well as the mortar launchers before entering Douma's farmlands from several directions.

Although a number of rebel strongholds remain, none are as strategically important as Eastern Ghouta, where Douma is located.More than 130,000 people have fled the once-besieged enclave in recent weeks, according to the United Nations, a lot of them to government-run reception centers in Damascus.

The military stressed they will continue to retaliate with precision strikes until Jaish al-Islam stops shelling on residential neighborhoods in Damascus and its surroundings, and till an agreement is reached so the militants release all the abductees and accept to leave Douma. "We've been waiting for this for years, whether in Ghouta or in Damascus", said Abbas.

Mohammad Alloush, the Jaish al-Islam political official, said the group wanted to continue negotiations.

A commander in the regional military alliance that backs Assad said Jaish al-Islam's only option was to accept safe passage to rebel-held areas northeast of Aleppo as talks overseen by Russian Federation had collapsed.

At least eight civilians were killed in Saturday's bombardment of Douma, bringing to 48 the number of civilians who have been killed in the town since Friday, the Britain-based watchdog added.

The air and ground offensive on Eastern Ghouta has killed more than 1,600 civilians and caused an worldwide outcry.

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Tens of thousands of people are estimated to be sheltering in Douma.

Earlier in the week, hundreds of opposition fighters and their relatives left Douma toward northern areas controlled by Turkey-backed opposition fighters in the north.

In Ankara on Wednesday, the Turkish, Russian and Iranian presidents said there was "no alternative to the Syrian National Dialogue Congress", the Moscow-sponsored peace effort widely seen as a rival to the UN's Geneva process.

It remains unclear exactly why the talks fell apart this week.

The army, however, resumed airstrikes on militant positions in Douma on Friday after the last remaining militants there violated an evacuation deal and shelled civilian areas near Damascus on Saturday.

Top Jaish al-Islam political figure Mohammad Alloush yesterday blamed global supporters of Syria's government for hamstringing the talks.

The leaflets also called on civilians to stay, saying their safety would be guaranteed by Russian Military Police deployed outside Douma.

Assad is keen to recapture Ghouta to eliminate the opposition from the outskirts of Damascus and end years of rocket fire on the capital.

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