Civilians flood out of Syria's Douma, war monitor says

For Syrian President Bashar Assad, the capture of eastern Ghouta will represent a major victory, dealing the rebels their most significant blow since they lost their stronghold in Aleppo in 2016.

By REUTERS
March 22, 2018 11:17
1 minute read.
Civilians flood out of Syria's Douma, war monitor says

A man pushes a cart past damaged buildings at the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syria March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh. (photo credit: REUTERS/BASSAM KHABIEH)

 
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BEIRUT - Large numbers of Syrian civilians were leaving the rebel-held eastern Ghouta town of Douma early on Thursday, a war monitor said, and a Russian video feed showed groups bearing children and luggage crossing into government territory.

Some 1,500 people left early on Thursday and 2,000 late on Wednesday, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitoring group.

A webcam on the Russian Defense Ministry website showed what it said was live footage from the al-Wafideen crossing point between rebel-held Douma and government areas.

Over a period of several minutes, it showed dozens of people in small groups coming around a corner and trekking along the dirt road past armed soldiers.

Some carried large bundles of their possessions, others carried small children or pushed prams. Behind were fields and trees. At one point in the road a man could be seen in a red shirt with the logo of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

Douma is the most populous area in eastern Ghouta, and for more than a week it has been entirely surrounded by the government. The Jaish al-Islam rebel group that holds the town has said it is determined to fight on, after a month-long government offensive that has taken 70 percent of the former opposition enclave in eastern Ghouta.

However, the Observatory said people leaving the area were doing so under an agreement between the group and the government's closest ally Russia.

The Syrian government and Russia have both accused rebels in eastern Ghouta of stopping civilians leaving the area. They say their assault, which the Observatory says has killed more than 1,500 people so far, is needed to end Islamist militant rule over the area's people.

On Wednesday, the Ahrar al-Sham group which controls Harasta, another besieged town in eastern Ghouta, agreed to surrender the area in return for safe passage to rebel-held Idlib province in northwest Syria, opposition sources said.

For Syrian President Bashar Assad, the capture of eastern Ghouta will represent a major victory, dealing the rebels their most significant blow since they lost their stronghold in Aleppo in 2016.

On Sunday, Assad drove himself to a newly captured battlefront in eastern Ghouta, a demonstration of his growing confidence as the war against rebels turns more decisively in his favor.

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