United Nations adviser in Geneva urges access to Syria's Douma

Jo Caldwell
April 5, 2018

As government forces have steadily reclaimed towns and villages in eastern Ghouta, they have given rebels and men of fighting age the choice of accepting amnesty and serving in the Syrian military, or relocating to rebel-held areas in northern Syria.

From the start of the humanitarian pause's introduction in eastern Ghouta, 2,269 militants and their families left Douma, the largest urban centre in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, the ministry said.

Indicating divisions in Jaish al-Islam, a Syrian military source told Reuters some of the fighters were rejecting the deal and the army would use force unless they accepted it.

Fighters from the Army of Islam would evacuate to Jarablus, a town in the northern Aleppo province that is shared between rebel and Turkish control.

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Jaish al-Islam counts around 10,000 fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Jaish al-Islam, which has been defending the eastern Ghouta town of Douma against a ferocious onslaught by Russian-backed Assad regime forces, has not confirmed the agreement with the regime.

Douma was one of the earliest hubs of the Arab Spring uprising against President Bashar Assad that swept through the country in 2011.

Warning about UN's underfunded Syria operation this year, the adviser said only 7.7 percent of the United Nations humanitarian operation for Syria was funded after the first quarter of the year ended.

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But there is skepticism over the state-run reports because representatives of Jaish al-Islam have told CNN and said on social media they have been negotiating with the Russians, ally of the Assad regime, and are trying to reach a deal that allows them to stay in Douma.

Local activists have said that over 100,000 civilians were trapped inside Douma, which suffered devastating damage.

These include more than 1,000 people - fighters from another faction, Faylaq al-Rahman, and family members - who left Douma late Sunday, according to regime media. The source said on Tuesday the government had set a deadline for militants to leave Douma, without saying how long.

It said Russia, Iran, and Turkey - which have negotiated local settlements in different parts of Syria - would oversee the handover of prisoners held by the Army of Islam to the government. Ahmad Ramadan, an opposition figure, revealed on Sunday that Turkey was party to the talks as well.

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Turkey, with support from rebels, is running its own military operations against a US -backed Kurdish militia in northern Syria, which controls territory along the frontier.

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