Syria's regime may retake one-time rebel enclave

03 April, 2018, 06:11 | Author: Mable Gonzales
  • Syrian government forces' infantry fighting vehicles and trucks drive past damaged buildings down a street in the Eastern Ghouta town of Hazzeh on the outskirts of Damascus

Following tough negotiations held between both parties, Jaish al-Islam and Moscow reached a final deal to evacuate fighters and civilians from the city of Douma, the last rebel-held bastion in the Eastern Ghouta enclave, opening the way for regime forces to capture the entire area.

Army of Islam officials did not respond to requests for comment by The Associated Press.

The last rebels standing in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta were poised to leave on Sunday, Syrian state-affiliated media reported, cementing a significant victory for the government of President Bashar Assad.

The towns are located in a section of the Turkish-Syrian frontier where Turkey has carved out a buffer zone controlled on the ground by its military and allied fighters from Free Syrian Army rebel groups that are hostile to Assad.

"Turkey will not hesitate to use initiative if terrorists in Manbij are not driven away", a statement on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's presidential website last week read, warning the USA whose special forces there in the northern Syrian town continue to work with Kurdish-led groups.

The agreement, brokered under the stewardship of Russian Federation, a staunch Assad ally, called for the fighters to abandon their heavy weapons and depart to the city of Jarablus on Syria's northern border that is controlled by Turkish-backed rebels.

There was no immediate confirmation from the rebels, but pro-regime newspaper Al-Watan quoted "diplomatic sources" as saying the agreement would see fighters give up heavy weapons and leave Douma for northern Syria.

The rebels have been negotiating with Russian Federation, a key ally of Assad, for days on an agreement to evacuate Douma.

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Indicating divisions in Jaish al-Islam, a Syrian military source told Reuters some of the fighters were rejecting the deal and the regime army would use force unless they accepted it.

"We will stay in this town and will not leave". Trump has told advisers he wants an early exit of USA troops from Syria, two senior administration officials said on Friday, a stance that may put him at odds with U.S. military officials who see the fight against Islamic State as nowhere near complete.

"Jaish al Islam has taken the decision to remain steadfast and the idea of leaving is not on the table", said the official.

Backed by Russia, Assad's forces have scored a series of victories over opposition forces in recent years, often through campaigns of siege, aerial bombardment and ground offensives that have drawn widespread global condemnation.

Syria's seven-year bloodletting has left around 450,000 killed.

Syria's war has killed more than 350,000 people and displaced millions since starting in 2011 with a brutal repression of anti-regime protests.

The UN has estimated the material cost of the war damage at close to $250 billion.

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