Syrian government forces are on the verge of recapturing the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta, according to state media reports.
A Russian military chief announced on Wednesday that it was only a matter of time until the last rebel “bastion” came under government control, the government affiliated el-Watan newspaper reported on Thursday.
“The militants are being evacuated from Douma, their last bastion in Eastern Ghouta, and within a few days the humanitarian operation in Eastern Ghouta must be completed”, Lieutenant General Sergei Rudskoi said.
Rebel fighters are expected to hand over medium to heavy weaponry in exchange for safe passage to Jarablus, a town in the predominantly rebel-controlled north.
Bus convoys have evacuated some 2,350 Jaish al-Islam rebel fighters and their families from Douma since Tuesday, according the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Today’s departures – already under way – will leave government forces in control of the enclave for the first time in nearly five years.
Government forces along with its Russian ally launched a relentless ground and aerial offensive in February 18 to retake the Damascus suburb it had lost in mid-2013.
On Sunday, Iyad Abdelaziz, a council member from Douma, countered Syrian government claims an agreement was reached with Jaish al-Islam to leave the town, stressing that this only applied to the wounded.
A video posted on Jaish al-Islam’s social media accounts on Wednesday, however, showed its religious committee’s chairperson, Abu Abdelrahman Kaaka, confirm the deal
Kaaka denied the existence of a disagreement between the group’s leadership and its fighters after reports of insubordination had surfaced following the deal, stressing that it is incumbent on the latter to obey the orders of their guardian.
Earlier in march, the two rebel groups of Faylaq al-Rahman and Ahrar al-Sham reached an evacuation deal with the Russian army which resulted in an approximate 19,000 residents leaving the suburb.
To date, an estimated 150,000 residents of Eastern Ghouta have evacuated to northern Syria.