Middle EastWar

Syrian military takes control over Eastern Ghouta after rebels in Douma lay down arms

The Syrian army is set to control all of Eastern Ghouta in Damascus after entering the rebel enclave of Douma on Thursday, April 12, Russian officials and media reported.

Yuri Yevtushenko, head of the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Opposing parties in Syria, said the army entered Douma and raised the Syrian flag, Tass reported.

Russian military police will be deployed to secure the town “during its transitional period,” according to the report. The reconciliation center said on Wednesday that about 4,000 Jaysh al Islam miliants and their families had left the city and surrendered their weapons.

The remaining rebels, including their leader Issam Buwaydani, laid down their heavy weapons and left Douma on Wednesday, AFP reported.

Reports on Wednesday evening said the rebels and their families had arrived in Al Bab in Aleppo province near the border with Turkey.

Eastern Ghouta was the opposition’s main stronghold in Syria and suffered a five-year siege before an onslaught beginning in February that left over 1,800 civilians dead. The first two enclaves were evacuated under Russian-brokered deals last month that saw more than 46,000 rebels and civilians bussed to opposition-held Idlib province in the northwest.

But talks with Jaysh al-Islam, which controls Douma – the third and last pocket – faltered despite a preliminary deal last week that saw nearly 3,000 fighters and civilians bussed to Turkey-controlled Jarablus in northern Syria.

Chemical weapons attack

Douma was the site of last week’s suspected chemical weapons attack that left hundreds of people dead and injured.

Raed al-Saleh, head of first-responders Syria Civil Defense – better known as the White Helmets – said 70 people had “suffocated to death” and hundreds of others were affected by the suspected attack on Saturday, April 7.

In a tweet containing graphic imagery of bodies, the pro-opposition Ghouta Media Center said more than 75 people had “suffocated” and a further 1,000 people had been affected.

The GMC blamed a barrel bomb allegedly dropped by helicopter at around 9 p.m.

In another graphic tweet, the White Helmets also blamed a helicopter-dropped barrel bomb that it said had been dropped at 8:22 p.m.

The Union of Medical Relief Organizations, an American charity that works with hospitals in Syria, told the BBC that the Damascus Rural Specialty Hospital confirmed 70 deaths, while Reuters reported Tawfik Chamaa, a Geneva-based Syrian doctor with UOSSM as saying that 150 people were killed.

“The majority were civilians, women and children trapped in underground shelters,” Chamaa said.

The World Health Organisation said on Wednesday that its partners reported an estimated 500 people who exhibited signs and symptoms of exposure to toxic chemicals, including respiratory failure and disruption to the central nervous system. More than 70 people hiding in basements during Saturday’s attack have died, and 43 of them had symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals, the WHO said.

The attack has outraged the West, with U.S. President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May signaling possible military action against the Assad regime in response.

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