The Latest: Russia in talks with last rebel group in Ghouta
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria (all times local):
Russia’s military says a preliminary agreement has been reached on the withdrawal of fighters of the Army of Islam rebel group from the eastern Ghouta suburbs of Syria’s capital, Damascus.
Maj. Gen. Yuri Yevtushenko, chief of the Russian center for reconciliation of the Syrian warring parties, said Sunday that the fighters are to hand over maps of mined areas and underground tunnels while leaving the Douma area of Eastern Ghouta.
They also must voluntarily remove mines from buildings and clear major transport routes of barricades.
A council member of the opposition-controlled town of Douma in the eastern Ghotua suburbs of Damascus says reports of an agreement to surrender the town to the central government are not true.
Iyad Abdelaziz says there is no agreement reached to have the Army of Islam rebel faction leave Douma for north Syria and hand over the town to government forces. He says, however, that “humanitarian cases” will be allowed to evacuate on Monday.
Douma has been besieged by government forces since 2013. It was one of the earliest hubs of the Arab Spring-styled uprising against President Bashar Assad that swept through the country in 2011.
Hundreds of residents are believed to require care for war wounds and medical conditions exacerbated by the siege. The government routinely blocks aid groups from evacuating patients from besieged areas for medical care.
An opposition official told the Saudi TV channel al-Arabiya that the Army of Islam was still engaged in talks with Russia over the future of Douma. Russia is a key backer of the Syrian government.
Ahmad Ramadan says Turkey, which backs various Syrian rebel groups, and shares control over a part of opposition territory in north Syria, is also party to the talks.
Syrian military media says rebels belonging to the powerful Army of Islam group have agreed to evacuate their stronghold in the suburbs of Damascus, giving the government complete control of the eastern Ghouta region which has been rebel-held since 2011.
The Central Military Media outlet, which is linked to the Syrian military, says the Army of Islam has agreed to leave the town of besieged town of Douma for Jarablus, a town shared between rebel and Turkish control in north Syria.
It says a local council for Douma will be formed with the approval of the central government.
Douma was one of the earliest hubs of the uprising against President Bashar Assad in 2011. The security services responded by putting the town and other suburbs around Damascus under siege, bombing hospitals and residential areas, and blocking food and medical relief. Douma is one of the last pockets of the opposition around the capital to hold out against the government.
It was not immediate possible to confirm the details of the deal and there was no comment from the Army of Islam.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group reported earlier in the day Russia’s military police would be deployed inside Douma to take custodianship of the town.
A rebel faction trapped by Syrian government forces outside the capital agreed to evacuate to northern Syria on Sunday as talks continued over lifting the siege against the town of Douma, where tens of thousands of civilians await relief.
Fighters from the Faylaq al-Rahman group left Douma on buses sent by the Syrian government to the rebel-held province of Idlib, SANA state news agency reported.
It was the first organized evacuation of fighters from Douma, which has held out against government forces through 7 years of war. The town was one of the hubs of the Arab Spring uprising against President Bashar Assad’s government in 2011, which drew a brutal response from security forces, sparking the ongoing civil war.
Some 1,300 fighters, activists, and civilians signed up to leave the town, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.