Syrian Army Makes Major Gains in Eastern Ghouta

Syrian Army Makes Major Gains in Eastern Ghouta

Kerry Wise
March 25, 2018

A similar deal with another rebel group, Ahrar al-Sham, led to the evacuation of hundreds of fighters and civilians from Harasta, an eastern Ghouta town.

Whilst events further north in Douma city might yet take on a full military character, it appears that the insurgent presence there will be mostly sorted through diplomatic means at this point.

State television reported that more than 60 buses had left Harasta since Thursday, carrying over 3,800 people including more than 1,000 fighters.

Rebel officials say they expect the evacuation to last several days.

It has been marked by tactics the army and its ally Russian Federation have increasingly used to crush resistance - lay siege to an area, bombard it, launch a ground assault and finally offer the rebels and their families safe passage to the northwest.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a United Kingdom based war monitor, reported that the last group of evacuees arrived Saturday in the town of Qalaat al-Madiq in Hama province, from where they will head for neighbouring Idleb.

Buses entered around 4:00 pm local time (1400 GMT), and fighters, their families, and other civilians began boarding them in Arbin as night fell.

Eight government supporters released by Faylaq al-Rahman told state TV about the mistreatment they were subjected to while being held underground and given little food and water.

The White Helmets, a civil defence organisation operating in rebel-held areas, said most of the dead were women and children.

The first deal brokered by Russian Federation was reached with the hardline Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham for the town of Harasta.

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"The city of Harasta in eastern Ghouta is free of terrorism", SCMM said referring to opposition fighters that the government refers to as terrorists.

The second agreement, with Faylaq al-Rahman, provides for the transfer of an estimated 7,000 people to Idlib province.

Thousands trapped in eastern Ghouta are hiding in shelters amid an incessant bombing campaign by the Syrian government.

"We unfortunately have a steady stream of reports coming out of Eastern Ghouta: of attacks of bombardments, all kinds of illegal weapons being used." said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), during a news conference in Geneva. "Today is a session to find a solution to end this human suffering, whatever the cost", he said on television.

About 1,500 people left Harasta on Thursday evening and reached the rebel-held northwest on Friday, the observatory said.

Ahrar al-Sham had made some demands in talks before the evacuation but were pummelled into accepting whatever conditions were imposed to them.

People who wished to stay on would not face prosecution, said Wael Alwan, spokesman for the Failaq al-Rahman group there, adding that the group would also release captured government soldiers.

Moscow played a key role in the two agreements already reached and is mediating talks for the last pocket, held by Jaish al-Islam.

That evacuation deal was the first agreed since the offensive on the Eastern Ghouta was stepped up a month ago.