Syrian President Bashar al-Assad vowed to continue an offensive in eastern Ghouta near Damascus on Sunday as his forces advanced into the last major rebel enclave near the capital.
The offensive is one of the deadliest in the war and one local insurgent group called it a“scorched earth” campaign.
The government is pressing on despite Western calls for it to abide by a 30-day, countrywide ceasefire demanded by the U.N. Security Council.
“We will continue fighting terrorism ... and the Ghouta operation is a continuation of fighting terrorism,” Assad said in comments to journalists broadcast on state TV.
The advances have forced thousands of civilians to flee deeper into the rebel-held territory, where some 400,000 people live, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a resident said on Sunday.
Government forces need to advance just a few more kilometers (miles) further to split the enclave in two, said a commander in the military alliance that backs Assad. The Observatory said government forces had seized a quarter of the territory.
Assad said there was no contradiction between daily, five-hour humanitarian ceasefires called by his ally Russia, and ongoing combat operations, noting that advances by government forces in the last few days had occurred during the truce.