Bombing reportedly escalated in eastern Damascus on Wednesday, January 3, in what appears to be an attempt to recapture a military base besieged by rebel forces since mid-November. Around 200 Syrian army soldiers are believed to be trapped inside the base. The ongoing operation reportedly involves the Syrian and Russian air forces as well as elite Syrian troops on the ground.
Eastern Ghouta, one of the last rebel bastions in the Damascus region, has witnessed a spike in violence over the past week. The Syrian army has carried out a series of strikes in Eastern Ghouta since December 29, which have killed 38 civilians and injured 147 others as of January 3. Meanwhile, rebels mainly belonging to the Ahrar Al-Sham faction extended their control over the military base on December 31.
Eastern Ghouta is home to three rebel factions that regularly target the nearby capital. In mid-November, the Ahrar Al-Sham faction seized parts of the military base, which triggered a strong response from the regime. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, over 200 civilians were killed in retaliation in November. To recapture Eastern Ghouta, the Syrian regime has engaged in what the UN envoy to Syria has called a "surrender or starve" strategy, which has proven effective for the Al-Assad regime over the past years.
Humanitarian organizations continue to sound the alarm to the international community concerning the increasingly dire situation in Eastern Ghouta, where some 400,000 people are suffering from hunger and cold. Humanitarian convoys to the area have been blocked by the Syrian regime in recent weeks and no residents are being allowed to leave.
Due to extremely poor security conditions, Western governments generally advise against all travel to Syria, with some banning travel to the country. Professional security advice and support should be sought prior to any travel to Syria.