Published: Sat, April 07, 2018
Worldwide | By Victor Meyer

United Nations seeks access to Syrians in eastern Ghouta's Douma

United Nations seeks access to Syrians in eastern Ghouta's Douma

On Monday, rebels and civilians began evacuating the town of Douma, the final opposition-held pocket of the Ghouta enclave.

Fighters from the Jaish al-Islam group will leave Douma to north Syria, possibly to the city of Jarablus, controlled by Turkish-backed rebels, a Syrian opposition source close to talks held between the group and Russian Federation told Asharq Al-Awsat on Sunday.

The pull-outs came under a deal announced on Friday between regime backer Russian Federation and rebel group Jaish Al Islam, which controls Douma.

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

The Syrian rebel group Jaish al-Islam released five prisoners on Wednesday as part of a deal over the eastern Ghouta town of Douma, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and state media said.

Maj. Gen. Yuri Yevtushenko, chief of the Russian center for reconciliation of the Syrian warring parties, said Sunday that the fighters are to hand over maps of mined areas and underground tunnels while leaving the Douma area of Eastern Ghouta. There was no comment from the Army of Islam.

Eastern Ghouta, a 105-square-km agricultural region consisting of several towns and farmlands, used to be occupied by several rebel groups, who posed the last threat to the capital by firing shells into Damascus' government-controlled neighborhoods.

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It was the first organized evacuation of fighters from Douma, one of the earliest centers of the anti-government demonstrations that swept through the country in 2011. Syrian government forces responded by putting the town and other suburbs around Damascus under siege, bombing hospitals and residential areas, and blocking the entry of food and medical relief.

Jaish al-Islam has not yet confirmed the accord, amid reports hardliners within the group were refusing to leave their positions.

It says a local council for Douma will be formed with the approval of the central government. Some 50,000 fled to opposition-held Idlib, which Egeland called "the biggest cluster of displacement camps in the world" with around 1.5 million people.

"China will continue to provide humanitarian aid to Syria through bilateral cooperation with the Syrian government or global organisations", Qi said on Wednesday, Xinhua news agency reported.

The evacuation involves Fuaa and Kafraya, two Shiite areas in Idlib province surrounded by rebels, and the rebel-held towns of Zabadani and Madaya.

The United Nations does not have any reports on any recent fighting or air raids in Syria's Eastern Ghouta following years of "besiegement and suffering", Jan Egeland, the adviser on humanitarian issues to the UN Special Envoy for Syria, said Wednesday.

The regime assault on Eastern Ghouta since mid-February has killed more than 1,600 civilians and caused tens of thousands to flee into regime-held territory.

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