Fresh rebel evacuations from Syria's Douma

Kenny Tucker
April 16, 2018

"All terrorists have left Douma, the last of their holdouts in Eastern Ghouta", state news agency SANA quoted an army spokesman as saying Saturday, using the regime's usual term for rebels.

It added that the army is preparing eastern Ghouta for tens of thousands who were displaced over the past two months during a crushing government offensive to retake the area.

This development comes as the entire Eastern Ghouta was free of rebels late last month with over 43,000 rebels and their families evacuating to rebel-held areas in the northwestern province of Idlib except Douma.

"This major victory in Douma and the eradication of terrorism from the entire Eastern Ghouta is a natural result of the people's embracement of the Syrian army when they took to the streets, urging the army to liberate them from terrorism", the military statement said.

The demonstrations broke out early Saturday following a wave of U.S., British and French military strikes to punish President Bashar Assad for suspected chemical attack against civilians.

The Syrian government and allied forces launched a massive assault on 18 February to retake the enclave, which had been out of regime control since 2012.

Syrian state TV carried live images of hourslong street celebrations with people dancing and chanting in support of their government's "steadfastness" following unprecedented joint airstrikes by the United States, France and Britain on Syria.

Heavy fighting and devastating bombings have killed more than 1,700 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH), an NGO that has an extensive network of sources in war-torn Syria.

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A team of experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is in Damascus and expected to investigate the site of the suspected chemical attack.

President Bashar al-Assad had made the reconquest of Eastern Ghouta a strategic goal.

Western powers accuse Syrian government forces of carrying out an alleged chemical attack in Duma on April 7, killing dozens of dead, according to White Helmet rescuers.

"Punishing the instrument of the crime while keeping the criminal - a farce", wrote Mohammad Alloush, a key member of Jaish al-Islam.

"Humanitarian operation in the Eastern Ghouta carries on despite missile strikes against Damascus carried out by the global coalition", Maj.

Syria and Russian Federation have both denied using chemical weapons and said the claims were fabrications used to justify Western military action.

In the aftermath of this attack, the last rebel faction on the ground, the Islamist group Jaich al-Islam, had agreed to an evacuation agreement for its fighters sponsored by Moscow, similar to the initiatives that had already forced the groups Faylaq al-Rahman and Ahrar al-Cham to leave other areas of Ghouta.

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