First Published: 2018-03-21

Syrian rebels reach evacuation deal in Eastern Ghouta town
Ahrar al Sham rebel group in control of besieged town of Harasta agree to lay down their arms in return for safe passage to insurgent-controlled areas.
Middle East Online

Harasta heavily bombarded

AMMAN - A Russian-brokered deal has been reached to evacuate a Syrian rebel group from a town in Eastern Ghouta to opposition-held northwestern Syria in the first such deal in the last remaining rebel bastion near the capital, two opposition sources said on Wednesday.

Fighters from the Ahrar al Sham rebel group in control of the besieged town of Harasta had agreed to lay down their arms in return for safe passage to insurgent-controlled areas and an offer to be pardoned under local reconciliation terms with the authorities for those who want to stay, the sources said.

There was however no indication when the deal would be implemented and one source familiar with the talks said obstacles may delay it for a few days.

The Syrian army and allied forces have recaptured 70 percent of the territory that was under insurgent control in the enclave and after weeks of bombardment residents are fleeing by the thousands.

The relentless Syrian army assault backed by Russian air power that began last month has killed hundreds of people as relentless airstrikes pounded residential areas where thousands had sheltered in basements across the densely populated enclave, according to rescuers and a monitor.

The evacuation deals come after years of siege and bombardment that have been a major strategy by the Syrian army to force rebels to surrender and help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad recover all of Aleppo, Homs and other areas.

"The deal has been finalised and it could come into effect soon after a ceasefire is announced as early as Wednesday," said one official familiar with the talks that have been going on for several days.

It would begin with an evacuation of injured civilians, he added, saying the remaining civilians in the town were "facing untold suffering."

A local official in the opposition-run Harasta council was quoted by opposition news outlets that a deal had been reached but did not say when it was expected to be implemented.

Last year, rebels launched a major offensive on army barracks on the edge of Harasta that led to retaliatory attacks. The battles were among the fiercest in Eastern Ghouta in recent years.

Assad has vowed to end what he portrays as a terrorist threat in close proximity to his seat of power.

On Tuesday, a rocket fell on a popular residential area across the rebel-held enclave killing at least 40 people, according to medics in government controlled areas.

The Syrian authorities accused rebels of firing the rockets in revenge attacks which rebels deny.

Over 100 civilians were killed in the last two days of air strikes in Eastern Ghouta with most of the raids on Douma city, the largest population centre with more than 150,000 people still living there.

Rebels and residents say napalm and incendiary weapons were dropped on several civilian areas to force rebels to surrender.

The predicament of hundreds of rebels trapped in Harasta, one of the main towns in Eastern Ghouta, worsened after the army succeeded earlier this month in splintering Ghouta into three besieged zones, cutting off Harasta from other areas.

Last Sunday, the Syrian army had given the rebels of Harasta area an ultimatum to withdraw, state media said..

Residents and rescuers say the Russian airforce stepped up its bombing of Harasta town as talks were going on to broker the deal.

The Harasta deal will pile pressure on the two main rebel groups - Failaq al-Rahman in the southern pocket and Jaish al-Islam in the northern enclave - to also reach understandings.

They have however publicly said they reject Russia's offer to leave the enclave.

The most likely option was however the transfer of Failaq al-Rahman and Jaish al-Islam fighters to opposition-held areas in northern and southern Syria respectively, a rebel official familiar with the situation on the ground said.

The defeat in Eastern Ghouta would mark the worst setback for the anti-Assad rebellion since the opposition was driven from eastern Aleppo in late 2016 after a similar campaign of siege, bombing, ground assaults and the promise of safe passage out.

 

Russia mulls supplying S-300 missile systems to Syria

Morocco, EU start talks on new fisheries deal

Bashir fires Sudan foreign minister

US has 'concerns' about Turkey holding fair vote under state of emergency

Saudi women embrace sports headscarves

FIFA to return to Morocco to check hotels, stadiums

Turkey in shock after violent Istanbul derby

Iraq pays first war reparations to Kuwait since 2014

Fiery kites adopted as new tactic by Gaza protesters

Romanian president slams plan to move Israel embassy

Western strikes on Syria bring no change whatsoever

Trump criticises OPEC for high oil prices

Syria says rebels south of capital surrender

Market has capacity to absorb higher oil prices: Saudi minister

Putin 'ready' for Trump summit

Saudi Arabia to host first public film screening

HRW criticises Lebanon for evicting Syria refugees

Saudi says intercepted ballistic missile from Yemen

Washington: Assad still has 'limited' chemical capability

European MPs urge US not to scrap Iran deal

Oil price soars to highest level in years

Two more pro-Kurdish MPs stripped of Turkey seats

Oil theft 'costing Libya over $750 million annually'

Turkey's snap polls: bold gambit or checkmate for Erdogan?

Iran arrests senior official over public concert

Bahrain sentences 24 to jail, strips citizenship

UN experts urge Iran to cancel Kurd's death sentence

Moderate quake strikes near Iran nuclear power plant

Syria regime forces caught in surprise IS attack

Turkey sentences 18 to life for killing ‘hero’ coup soldier

Exxon faces setback in Iraq as oil and water mix

Libya to clamp down on fuel smuggling

Yemen to arrest colonel for overlooking African migrant rape

Erdogan sends Turkey to snap polls on June 24

Qatar joins Gulf military exercise in apparent compromise

Saudi-Russia oil alliance likely to undercut OPEC

UN in security talks with Syria on chemical probe

Riyadh says two al Qaeda militants killed in Yemen

Record of women candidates in Lebanon, but you can't tell from TV

Sudan protests to UN over Egypt voting in disputed area

Erdogan calls Turkey snap polls for June 24

Rights watchdog say African migrants face rape, torture in Yemen

Nine years since last vote, Lebanon in election fever

Israeli fire neat Gaza border injures five Palestinian

Egypt army says killed jihadist leader in Sinai