Mon, Apr 02, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Deal for more civilians to leave Douma reached

PIECEMEAL PACT:The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said about 1,300 people would be covered by the deal. There are tens of thousands of civilians in the city

AFP, BEIRUT

Syrian children evacuated from eastern Ghouta sit on luggage after arriving in Qalaat al-Madiq, about 45km northwest of the central city of Hama, on Friday.

Photo: AFP

Russia struck a deal with rebels to evacuate hundreds of civilians from Douma, the final opposition pocket in their former bastion of eastern Ghouta, a Britain-based monitor said yesterday.

“A partial agreement was reached to evacuate hundreds of civilians who wish to leave for Idlib,” the rebel-held province in northwestern Syria, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights founder Rami Abdel Rahman said.

In all about 1,300 people would be evacuated under the deal, he said, adding that talks on the fate of rebels who hold Douma were still underway.

“Negotiations were continuing for a full agreement, including concerning the Jaish al-Islam” rebel faction, he said.

A civilian committee taking part in the negotiations with Russia on Saturday said a deal had been reached “to evacuate humanitarian cases to northern Syria.” It gave no further details nor did it say when the evacuations would start.

The reports come after Syria’s army on Saturday vowed to finish off rebels in Douma, the main town in eastern Ghouta.

In a televised statement, the Syrian army spokesman said the weeks-long military campaign had now brought security to the Syrian capital, Damascus, and also secured its main links to other parts of the country, stretching north and all the way to the Iraqi border to the east.

The military would press on with “fighting in the area of Douma to rid it of terrorism,” a reference to the rebels, he said.

Douma’s fall would seal the rebels’ worst defeat since 2016, driving them from their last big stronghold near the capital, and would also carry potent symbolism.

The town was the main center of street protests in the Damascus suburbs against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s rule that ignited the conflict seven years ago.

That announcement came after the state-owned Syrian Arab News Agency reported that another southern pocket of eastern Ghouta was “empty of terrorism” as the last buses carrying rebels and civilians left it on Saturday afternoon as part of a deal to withdraw.

Footage on state television showed top army commanders entering by the same route the rebel convoys had used to leave.

Since Feb. 18, Russian-backed regime forces have recaptured the vast majority of eastern Ghouta through the combination of a deadly air and ground assault and evacuation deals.

The assault has killed more than 1,600 civilians and caused tens of thousands more to flee into regime-held territory, the Observatory said.

The Syrian army has repeatedly said regaining control over rebel-held suburbs would stop rocket attacks on the capital.

It denies that many civilians were killed in bombardments that rescuers and residents say reduced whole neighborhoods to rubble in densely populated areas where at least 350,000 people lived.

Al-Assad said recently securing eastern Ghouta had foiled plots by his foreign enemies to topple him.

Tens of thousands of civilians remain in Douma, which is the largest urban center in the enclave, facing worsening conditions.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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