Syria Daily: Talks in East Ghouta as Pro-Assad Forces Close on Douma

Pro-Assad forces take a selfie in East Ghouta, Syria

UPDATE 1700 GMT: Pro-opposition site Orient News says 25 patients left East Ghouta this morning for medical treatment in Damascus.

The site said the Assad regime prevented Red Crescent buses from entering the opposition enclave, instead insisting that patients and their families make their way towards the regime checkpoint at the al-Wafideen crossing so regime TV could film their departure.

The medical system in East Ghouta is near collapse after pro-Assad airstrikes have struck 22 medical facilities since early February.

EAST GHOUTA PATIENTS EVACUATED

During the five-year siege of the area, the Assad regime has refused evacuation of seriously ill civilians except for 27 who were allowed out in the autumn in a swap for people held by the Islamic bloc Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.


Hoping to force a surrender, Russian officials are in talks with rebels in the bombarded and besieged East Ghouta area near Syria’s capital Damascus, according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

[Local sources in the rebel factions Jaish al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman later told EA that they are not in direct talks with Russian representatives, and are working with UN personnel.]

After a five-week assault that has killed about 1,400 people and injured thousands, the Assad regime’s forces — working with foreign allies and enabled by intense Russian airstrikes — have taken more than half of the remaining opposition area in East Ghouta, cutting the enclave and closing on its center, the town of Douma.

Guterres revealed the talks in an address to the Security Council on Monday. He said the regime and Jaish al-Islam, the key rebel faction in Douma, had discussions on Sunday after UN intervention:

I was informed as I was entering this room, from our people in Damascus, that there has been progress in relation to civilian evacuations and humanitarian aid.

Guterres noted a statement by Jaish al-Islam, “An agreement was reached with the Russian side through the United Nations for a humanitarian medical evacuation of the wounded for treatment outside of eastern Ghouta.”

Surrender talks are also underway in other towns, even as pro-Assad forces continued attacks outside Douma. In the town of Kafr Batna, one civilian was reportedly killed and others wounded, apparently by rebel gunfire, amid demands for surrender.

Guterres noted that the surrender discussions were begun after “the Syrian government and its allies intensified airstrikes and launched a ground offensive…steadily moving to urban centres and forcing large-scale displacement”.

Ne noted that, despite the surrender talks, “No sieges have been lifted….To our knowledge, not one critically sick or wounded person has yet been evacuated.”

US Says It Will Act, But No Indication of Movement

US Ambassador Nikki Haley repeated the Trump Administration’s line that Washington “remains prepared to act if we must”, if the Security Council does not halt the pro-Assad attacks: “When the international community consistently fails to act, there are times when states are compelled to take their own action.”

However, Haley gave no indication of specific action that would bring US intervention or what form it would take.

Administration officials, notably Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have distinguished between another sarin attack by the Assad regime, which would bring a US response, and conventional and chlorine assaults which would not cross the line.

Last week the White House held a meeting on the East Ghouta situation in which National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster favored US steps to halt the pro-Assad offensive but Mattis was “adamantly” opposed, according to officials.

After the Assad regime’s sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun in northwest Syria in April 2017, the US — in its first deliberate strikes on regime forces in the 7-year conflict, fired 56 missiles on the airbase from where the attack was launched.

Since then, the regime has not used sarin. However, it continues to deploy chlorine, including on at least seven occasions since January 13.

In the Security Council, Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia tried to cover for the chlorine assaults while staving off any intervention to halt the pro-Assad offensive. He said the regime was being accused of chemical attacks in a bid to“prepare the ground for the unilateral use of force against sovereign Syria: “Basically steps are being weighed which could hit regional stability very, very hard.”

Removal of 1,000 People South of Damascus

Pro-opposition sites report the removal of a “first batch” of 1,000 people from al-Qadam, south of Damascus, to Hama Province in northwest Syria.

Al-Qadam agreed a truce in 2014 and signed a capitulation agreement in September 2017. An opposition official said implementation provides for those who wish to leave to go either to Idlib Province or northern Hama Province.

The source said the Assad regime issued a 48-hour ultimatum on Saturday for rebels and their familities to leave or face an offensive similar to the attacks on East Ghouta.

Regime Renews Airstrikes on Dara’a in South

In a sign of its possible next target, regime warplanes struck Dara’a Province in southern Syria on Monday, their first attacks since last summer.

The attacks broke a “de-escalation” agreement, reached between Russia and the US, covering southern Syria from the border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights across to Dara’a city, where the Syrian uprising began in March 2011.

A US State Department official said:

If [reports are] true, this would be a clear violation of the (southwest) ceasefire by the Syrian regime that broadens the conflict.

We urge all parties in the southwest de-escalation zone not to take actions that would jeopardize the ceasefire and make future cooperation more difficult.

Russia and the regime also resumed airstrikes on Idlib Province in northwest Syria yesterday, hoping to draw a line against a Turkish-rebel advance on two regime enclaves, al-Fu’a and Kafraya, north of Idlib city.

At least one civilian was killed and scores wounded in towns across the province. Markets and a hospital were hit, and 20 children were reportedly wounded in an attack on a kindergarten.

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.

11 COMMENTS

  1. East Ghouta residents protest rebel presence and are fired upon: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/12/world/middleeast/syria-rebels-ghouta.html

    “In an area newly cut off from Douma, protests have proliferated. Residents are demanding that rebels leave, hoping that their departure would eliminate the main reason for the government bombings. On Monday, rebel fighters fired on demonstrators, killing one, a local doctor said.”

    Video of the anti-rebel protests: https://www.facebook.com/dimashq.now/videos/1566812333444373/

    • So now Tillerson is out and Pompeo is in. And the US has been taking an assertive position against Iran and Hezbollah and Assad, and wanting to save Syrians. With Turkey taking over NW Syria and the Kurds the NE and E of Syria, looks like Assad has not much real estate left except to kill and torture the poor innocent people of E. Ghouta. Assad and Russia dare not attack Turkey and dare not attack SDF (we saw what happened when Putin tried to attack the SDF). And you seem to be so content with killing the weak, poor, and innocent people and taking a few square kilometers in E. Ghouta when half of Syria has separated. Isn’t it so Leith?

  2. US Ambassador Nikki Haley repeated the Trump Administration’s line that Washington “remains prepared to act if we must”, if the Security Council does not halt the pro-Assad attacks.

  3. reason why arrogant jaish al islam lost the battle in eastern ghouta
    1.dropping thier tauhid flag
    2.fighting for fame and glory
    3.being dump by thier qatari and saudi master
    4.killing and prisoning their mujahideen brothers to impressed their master…..
    5.no other reason except…. uproot what you plant………fools

    • Well, what do you expect from a bunch of Mohammedans who want to install Islam by the sword, and make themselves caliph the easy way? Islamism is for stupid people to make them do stupid things. Islam is done and finished. It is hated universally in the West. Thanks to ex-Muslims.

    • Yeah, they aren’t going to do shit. Just like they didn’t do shit when the US slaughtered their mercs or shot down a Syrian jet. It would be a shame if we had to drop kick their ass out of Syria.

    • LMAO – like 500 Russian fighters with artillery and tanks attacking the Kurds and then being destroyed by Apache helicopters, AC-130, and howitzers – with 215 Russians dead and the rest maimed – only one Kurd was hurt? The Russian bodies are rotting in the Syrian desert waiting for Putin’s (rigged) election, before they can be shipped to their families. Did you see that video of the Russian fighter who was loading the artillery unit being hit and flying through the air? Russian version of wingsuit base jumping.

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