Reports of Douma evacuation deal ‘not true’: council member

Reported denial by opposition council member comes after state media says Jaish al-Islam agrees to leave besieged town.

Syrian forces of President Bashar al Assad are seen around buses carry civilian and rebels outside Harasta in eastern Ghouta, in Damascus
Syrian forces were seen around buses carry civilian and rebels outside Harasta in Eastern Ghouta on March 23 [File: Omar Sanadiki/Reuters]

A council member of Douma in Eastern Ghouta has said reports of a deal to surrender the opposition-controlled town to the Syrian government are not true.

Iyad Abdelaziz was quoted as saying by The Associated Press news agency on Sunday that there was no agreement reached to have the Jaish al-Islam rebel group leave Douma for north Syria and hand over the town to government forces.

He added, however, that “humanitarian cases” would be allowed to evacuate on Monday.

Earlier on Sunday, Syrian state news agency had reported that Jaish al-Islam, which controls Douma, the largest city in Ghouta, had reached a deal with the Syrian government to leave for rebel-held areas in northern Syria.

However, Jaish al-Islam has yet to confirm the report and only said on Saturday that it had agreed to evacuate the wounded to Idlib in northwestern Syria.

Also on Sunday, Hezbollah media said that an agreement had been reached with the rebel group to evacuate fighters to Jarablus, a town in northern Syria near the border with Turkey.

Jaish al-Islam has been in Russian-brokered negotiations with the Syrian government for several days now.

The government has threatened to storm the city if rebels did not agree to surrender the last patch in the enclave in exchange for safe passage to Idlib.

Hamza Berakdar, spokesperson for Jaish al-Islam, said on Saturday that the armed opposition in Douma refused to leave in what he called a forced displacement.

“Our position is consistent and clear,” he said. “We refuse to be forcibly displaced and demographic change in Eastern Ghouta.”

Later on the same day, the head of Jaish al-Islam’s political office, Yaser Dilwan, said that negotiations were ongoing and seemed optimistic, but did not offer any details other than to say that different options were suggested.

The comments came on the same day the Syrian army had declared “victory” against rebel groups in Eastern Ghouta.

The Syrian General Command of the Army and Armed Forces said in a statement that Eastern Ghouta, with the exception of Douma, was now under their control again.

“The armed forces’ formations, aided by allied forces, wrapped up military operations in Damascus Countryside’s Eastern Ghouta, with full control established all over its cities and towns,” said the statement.

Rebel groups leaving Ghouta

An estimated 140,000 people remain inside Douma, with limited access to food, water and medical supplies.

Eastern Ghouta was taken over by rebel groups in mid-2013, resulting in the Syrian government besieging the area since then.

At least 1,600 people have been killed following the launch of an aerial and ground offensive by Syrian forces and their ally, Russia, on February 18, to recapture what was once known as Damascus’ breadbasket.

Last week, two rebel groups reached an evacuation deal with the Russian army, which resulted in about 19,000 people leaving for the northern province of Idlib. They included fighters from the Faylaq al-Rahman and Ahrar al-Sham rebel groups, their families and other residents.

Source: Al Jazeera