Last piece of rebels' domino in Syria's Eastern Ghouta about to fall

Source: Xinhua| 2018-04-02 02:07:49|Editor: Yurou
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A soldier waves Syrian national flag on a government building in the recently recaptured Jobar neighborhood in the Eastern Ghouta countryside of Damascus, Syria, on April 1, 2018. After the last batch left the towns of Jobar, Arbeen, Zamalka and Ayn Tarma on Saturday evening, the entire Eastern Ghouta has become under the government control except for Douma, which is the largest and most densely-populated area in Eastern Ghouta. (Xinhua/Ammar Safarjalani)

DAMASCUS, April 1 (Xinhua) -- The last rebel-held area in the capital Damascus' Eastern Ghouta countryside is about to fall, with a new agreement that will see the evacuation of the rebels of the Islam Army toward northern Syria.

The agreement was declared by the official news agency SANA on Sunday, just a day after the last rebel batch left, making the entire area under the government's control except for the Douma district.

Around 40,000 rebels and their families have fled central areas in the Eastern Ghouta area toward the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib.

Additionally, 150,000 civilians have fled Eastern Ghouta toward government-run shelters on the outskirts of Eastern Ghouta last month.

But the situation in Douma is different. The civilians in that area will largely remain in their homes but the Islam Army, the rebel group in control of that area, will leave toward the rebel-held Jarablus city in the northern countryside of Aleppo province near the Turkish border, according to the agreement published by SANA.

The deal that was reached under the mediation of the Russians will also see the formation of local council inside Douma after the consent of the Syrian government, after which the light weapons in Douma will be surrendered to the government.

The Islam Army rebels will hand over their heavy and medium weaponry, according to the agreement, which also included forming a workgroup under the Russian leadership that will supervise the release of the kidnapped soldiers and civilians in the prisons of the Islam Army.

The deal also includes allowing 200 rebels of Failaq al-Rahman, who had been in control of other areas in Eastern Ghouta, to leave Douma toward Idlib, after they sought refuge in that area when the army entered their areas.

The evacuation of the 200 rebels and their families has already started, with buses preparing to transport them to Idlib through the Wafideen area northeast of Damascus.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights was cited by the Saudi-funded Alarabiya TV as saying that the Russian military police will enter Douma to "reassure the civilians."

According to the Observatory, the civilians who are not linked to the Islam Army can leave for any destination and the wounded will be evacuated to northern Syria.

Earlier in the day, the Observatory said that 1,300 civilians, including activists, will evacuate Douma toward rebel-held areas in northern Syria, as part of a preliminary understanding between the Islam Army and the Russian side.

Those civilians will evacuate Douma through the corridor between Douma and the Wafideen, according to the observatory.

Negotiations between the Russians and the Islam Army have been ongoing for quite some time, in an attempt to reach an understanding similar to what has been reached in major areas in Eastern Ghouta, where the rebels and their families have completely evacuated.

After the last batch left the towns of Jobar, Arbeen, Zamalka and Ayn Tarma on Saturday evening, the entire Eastern Ghouta has become under the government control except for Douma, which is the largest and most densely-populated area in Eastern Ghouta.

In its offensive that started late last month, the Syrian army captured large swathes of Eastern Ghouta and when it got close to the four towns, the rebels of Failaq al-Rahman asked for their evacuation.

The observatory said the only obstacle in the negotiations between the Islam Army and the Russians was the destination of 60,000 rebels and their families in Douma, a large number in comparison with the number that has evacuated the four towns as local reports placed the number of rebels and their families who evacuated other areas of Eastern Ghouta at around 40,000 people.

On Saturday night, the Syrian army declared its victory in Eastern Ghouta, saying in a statement that the Syrian army captured 31 towns and areas in Eastern Ghouta, while still in a fight with the rebels in Douma district, the last rebel stronghold north of Eastern Ghouta.

It added that the victory in Eastern Ghouta secured the road between Damascus and other Syrian areas in the north and also to the eastern areas in Syria reaching the Iraqi border.

Retrieving those areas also end the suffering of the Damascus' people as a result of the mortar attacks launched by the rebels from Eastern Ghouta.

The statement also said the victory in that area deals a blow to the "terrorist projects" targeting Syria.

Meanwhile, the army pledged to continue its battles against terrorism in all of Syria.

Eastern Ghouta, a 105-square-km agricultural region consisting of several towns and farmlands, poses the last threat to the capital due to its proximity to government-controlled neighborhoods east of Damascus and ongoing mortar attacks that target residential areas in the capital, pushing people over the edge.

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KEY WORDS: Eastern Ghouta