Wed, Mar 07, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Russia offers rebels a safe passage out of Ghouta

Reuters, MOSCOW and BEIRUT

A UN High Commissioner for Refugees vehicle arrives yesterday in eastern Ghouta, Syria.

Photo: AFP

The Russian military has offered Syrian rebels safe passage out of eastern Ghouta, setting out a deal by which the opposition would surrender its last major stronghold near Damascus to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as an international convoy has cut short its mission after delivering desperately needed aid.

The Russian Ministry of Defense said rebels could leave with their families and personal weapons through a secure corridor out of eastern Ghouta, where Moscow-backed government forces are making rapid gains in a fierce assault.

The Russian proposal did not specify where the rebels would go, but the terms echo previous deals by which insurgents have ceded ground to Assad and been given safe passage to other opposition-held territory near the Turkish border.

“The Russian Reconciliation Center guarantees the immunity of all rebel fighters who take the decision to leave eastern Ghouta with personal weapons and together with their families,” the ministry statement said.

The spokesman for one of the main rebel groups, Failaq al-Rahman, said Russia was “insisting on military escalation and imposing forced displacement.”

The Syrian army has captured more than a third of the enclave in recent days, threatening to slice it in two. It has pressed ahead despite Western accusations it has violated a ceasefire.

At least 68 civilians were killed on Monday, a monitor said, while dozens of UN trucks reached the main town of Douma, the first aid convoy to arrive since the assault began more than two weeks ago.

The 46 aid trucks arrived after fresh air strikes hit the shrinking rebel-held zone and regime troops rapidly advanced, leaving them in control of 40 percent of the region.

An Agence France-Presse reporter in Douma said warplanes were flying overhead and explosions could be heard, even as the aid was being unloaded.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the convoy was in the town of Douma for nearly nine hours before it cut short its mission.

UN humanitarian coordination office spokesperson Linda Tom said that fighting and air strikes had continued during the convoy’s deployment, “including on Douma City while the convoy was offloading.”

Additional reporting by AFP

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