Syrian forces: Most of eastern Ghouta has been retaken | News | DW | 01.04.2018
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Syrian forces: Most of eastern Ghouta has been retaken

Syria's state media has said regime forces have regained most of the towns and villages in a rebel-held territory near Damascus. A deal has reportedly been reached to evacuate the injured from a key town in the enclave.

In a statement on state television late Saturday, a Syrian army spokesman said its weekslong military campaign had brought "victory" as well as security to the nearby Syrian capital, Damascus, and also secured its main links to other parts of the country.

The spokesman added that the army was preparing to capture the last rebel bastion of Douma.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), based in the UK, said regime forces, backed by Russia, have retaken 95 percent of eastern Ghouta.

Read more: US, Turkey on collision course in Syria's Manbij

Douma deal agreed

Hours after the army's remarks, the Reuters news agency said a deal had been reached with rebel leaders in Douma — the largest urban center in the enclave — to evacuate the wounded to the last rebel-held territory in northern Syria.

Buses waiting to evacuate civilians and rebels from eastern Ghouta (Reuters/O. Sanadiki)

Bus convoys have evacuated thousands of civilians and rebels from the besieged enclave, close to Damascus

Citing local sources familiar with the deal, Reuters said the agreement was reached by the negotiating committee that comprises both civic leaders and representatives of Jaish al-Islam, the rebel faction in control of Douma.

Jaish al-Islam had previously refused to leave the area.

Talks are continuing on whether the city can avoid an expected military offensive by the Syrian army, backed by Russia.

Read more: Trump freezes Syria recovery funds amid rumors of early exit

Elite forces from Syria's Republican Guards and special army units have been amassing troops around Douma in recent days and threatening to storm the city if the rebels do not agree to leave.

Last month, Syrian President al-Bashar Assad's forces launched an offensive aimed at expelling rebels from besieged eastern Ghouta, where hundreds of thousands of people remained trapped until recently.

Thousands of people, including rebel fighters, have been evacuated from the enclave under deals brokered by Moscow, a key ally of the Syrian regime.

Civilians still stranded

But tens of thousands of civilians remain in Douma facing worsening humanitarian conditions.

Read more: Rocket fire kills at least 35 in Damascus shopping area

Assad's assault has killed more than 1,600 civilians, according to the SOHR.

The full recapture of eastern Ghouta will mark the biggest victory for Assad since December 2016, when his forces regained complete control of the northern city of Aleppo from the opposition following a Russian-backed offensive.

mm/cmk (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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