Surrender follows days of shelling and bombing by pro-Assad forces around Rastan pocket
Syria’s rebels have finally accepted a capitulation agreement in a pocket of northern Homs Province held by the opposition since October 2011.
After days of intense bombing and shelling, the rebels surrendered in and around the town of Rastan.
Opposition groups had hoped that an arrangement would allow all residents to remain, unlike the forced removals since 2016 from areas such as eastern Aleppo city, al-Wa’er in Homs city, and the Damascus suburbs including the East Ghouta region that conceded earlier this month after siege and conventional and chemical attacks.
However, an Assad regime official pointed to some removals, saying fighters and civilians who refuse to settle with the regime will be taken to the largest remaining opposition territory, in Idlib, northern Aleppo, and a slice of northern Hama Provinces in northwest Syria.
The fall of East Ghouta and northern Homs reduces opposition control to the Idlib-Aleppo-Hama area, guaranteed for now by a Turkish military presence alongisde rebel forces, and a strip of territory in southern Syria along the Jordanian border.
Despite the Turkish intervention in the northwest, the Assad regime has pledged to regain all of Syria, including Kurdish-controlled territory in the north and east.
The northern Homs pocket also includes Houla — the site of a regime mass killing in 2012 — Talbiseh, attacked by chlorine in 2014, and villages on a main highway between the cities of Homs and Hama.
Meanwhile, the regime and its allies are completing forced removals from a rebel-held pocket south of Damascus. An agreement was reached on Sunday with the Free Syrian Army over parts of Yalda, Babbila, and Beit Sham, moving thousands to the north or to Daraa Province near the Jordanian border. At the same time, pro-Assad fighters and families left the regime enclave of al-Fu’ah and Kafraya in opposition-held Idlib Province.
S. #Damascus: evacuation started for last Rebel pocket (Jaish Islam/Ababil-held). Pictures from #Babbila. ~5,000 among Rebels & civilians leaving area. https://t.co/rLLDJ1EfoJ pic.twitter.com/j82VWSaK3l
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) May 3, 2018
Senior Jaish al-Islam Official Alloush Resigns
Mohammed Alloush, the senior political official of the Jaish al-Islam rebel faction, has resigned.
Alloush was prominent both in the group’s operations in the East Ghouta area near Damascus, which it held since 2013, and in international discussions as a member of the opposition High Negotiations Committee.
However, Jaish al-Islam was effectively removed as a political and military force in Syria’s conflict by this month’s capture of East Ghouta by pro-Assad forces. Many of the group’s fighters and their families were forcibly removed to northern Syria.
Alloush said in a statement that he had been honored to serve since the establishment of Jaish al-Islam in 2013.
UK City Withdraws Venue for Pro-Assad Event Attacking Journalists
Leeds City Council have withdrawn the venue for the “Media on Trial” meeting that was to be staged later this month by pro-Assad bloggers, journalists, and activists.
A spokesman said in a statement:
Leeds City Museum recently received a request to host a panel discussion on May 27. Since accepting the booking, we have been made aware of further details regarding some of the content and discussion topics which would be part of the event.
Whilst the council and museums service are always in favour of promoting free speech and debate, our booking policy clearly states that events are subject to cancellation.
In line with that policy, we have decided that the museum is not an appropriate venue for this event and have informed the organisers that their booking has been cancelled.