The escalation in the attack was accompanied by a government thrust into the Ghouta's eastern edge, with troops less than a mile from meeting their counterparts on the enclave's western flank, pro-government activists said. Many posted pictures and videos depicting soldiers cheering in what were said to be former rebel-held territories in Ghouta.
But Wael Olwan, a spokesman for the Rahman Corps (Faylaq al Rahman), one of three of the Islamist factions that dominate the Ghouta, denied that the government had divided the territory.
"Very violent battles are still underway," Olwan said Thursday, adding that the rebels had taken back land from loyalist forces.
"The revolutionaries are still there and pushing the regime back."
Meanwhile, a number of sources reported negotiations were underway to secure a safe passage for the rebels out of Ghouta; a repeat of a similar deal offered to besieged opposition-held bastions in the past, including Aleppo.
Abdul Rahman, of the Observatory, and Nicholas Zaher, a Damascus-based analyst, said aid deliveries had been postponed because of the negotiations.
Omar Rahmoun, a former rebel turned negotiator for Damascus, confirmed that talks were taking place between Damascus and the opposition.
"There are many sons of the Ghouta in Damascus, local elements, who are opening channels of communication, and I've spoken to the factions publicly and secretly. But they will delay until the very last minute, when they lose all hope of any external or political cover," he said.
"But the decision has been taken by the government that Ghouta will be taken. The matter is clear: When a man finds himself unable to continue then surrender is not shameful."
(Bulos is a special correspondent.)
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