Published: Tue, April 03, 2018
Health Care | By Oscar Goodwin

Ghouta Falls in Syrian Regime's Clutches

Ghouta Falls in Syrian Regime's Clutches

State television said buses carrying 448 people, including fighters of the Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) group and their families, left Ghouta's main town of Douma on April 2.

Fighters from Failaq al-Rahman, a second rebel group that evacuated most of the towns under its control inside the enclave on Saturday, appeared to be the first to quit Douma on Sunday, giving some credence to the claims of a deal clearing the way for fighters to leave.

Over the past weeks, as Syrian forces reclaimed towns and villages in eastern Ghouta, they gave rebels and all men of fighting age the choice of accepting amnesty and serving in the Syrian military conscription, or leaving to go to the north of Syria.

Since starting their assault mid-February, Assad's forces have retaken 95 percent of Eastern Ghouta, according to the Observatory.

Division within ranks of fighters?

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President Assad's forces were poised to take control of the last rebel area close to Damascus last night as an evacuation of the fighters and their families - the largest so far in the seven-year war - gathered pace.

Negotiators in the last rebel-held bastion in Syria's Eastern Ghouta reached a deal with the Russian side to move the wounded from Douma to rebel-held northern Syria, local sources said.

Jaish al-Islam has been in Russian-brokered negotiations with the Syrian government for several days now.

On Sunday, the Syrian government-linked Central Military Media outlet said that once the evacuations were completed, a local council for Douma would be formed with the approval of the central government.

A political official in Jaish al Islam denied they had agreed to evacuate Douma and said the government-inspired reports were stepped up psychological warfare aimed at forcing them to capitulate.

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Opposition sources say Jaish al Islam officials have been desperately trying to strike a deal that would bring Russian military police into Douma, and let the group keep a role in maintaining internal security but under the state's overall jurisdiction. "Those who want to leave should leave", Essam Al Buidani says in the video, although it was unclear when it was filmed.

"We will stay in this town and will not leave".

Jaish Al Islam counts around 10,000 fighters, according to the observatory.

Assad and his backers have inflicted a series of bloody defeats on rebel forces in recent years, often through campaigns of siege, aerial bombardment and ground offensives that have drawn widespread global condemnation. Some 1,600 civilians were killed and tens of thousands displaced.

The conflict began after mass protests calling for an end to Assad's authoritarian rule on March 15, 2011, dragging in regional and global powers and forcing millions of people - more than half the pre-war population - to flee their homes.

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