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Syrian Government Trying to Capture Another Rebel-held Area After Eastern Ghouta

A man walks with his bicycle at a damaged site in the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria, March 30, 2018.
A man walks with his bicycle at a damaged site in the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria, March 30, 2018.

The Syrian government launched several airstrikes Sunday on the rebel-held eastern Qalamoun area, northeast of Damascus, according to local activists.

The airstrikes came as negotiations are underway between local councils of the main towns in eastern Qalamoun, and representatives from the Syrian government and the Russian Reconciliation Center in Syria.

“The rebels and local councils are trying to spare the populated towns from a fate similar to the one of eastern Ghouta, they seek to let people stay in their homes and avoid large-scale destruction of the area,” Abdullah Abdul Karim, a journalist based in Syria told VOA.

During the meeting, the Russian and Syrian government delegations called on the rebels to hand over their weapons to the Syrian government, leave the area or face war. The delegation gave rebels until Wednesday to respond.

Abdul Karim also said that councils of some local towns are negotiating their own terms for reconciliation.

On Monday, the town of Al Dumair issued a statement after the first round of negotiations with the Russian Reconciliation Center, agreeing on working to preserve security in the city, prevent civilian evacuations and protect the civilians in the city.

About 350 thousand civilians live in the area, including many displaced from Homs by fighting between the Syrian governments and ISIS. Others are refugees who recently left eastern Ghouta.

Who controls Eastern Qalamoun?

Eastern Qalamoun has been under rebel control since 2013. A number of rebel factions are present in the area, including the Syrian Liberation Front and Ahrar al-Sham.

Abu Adam Al Qalamouni, the leader of Syrian Liberation Front, tweeted Saturday that the rumors about his group leaving the area are not true. Abu Isa Ahrar, the leader of the Ahrah al-Sham rebel group, also denied reports about withdrawing from the region.

Eastern Qalamoun is the last stronghold for the Faylaq Al Rahman and Jaish Al Islam rebel groups, after their evacuation from eastern Ghouta. The forces of Martyr Ahmed Al Abdo rebel group are also based in Qalamoun, al-Tanf area. That is close to the Jordanian border and a U.S. military base.

Rebels in Qalamoun are trying to avoid fighting in populated areas, operating instead in mountainous landscape to the west and the desert to the east.

Eastern Ghouta

The last rebel-held pocket in eastern Ghouta is poised to surrender after Jaish Al Islam, the largest rebel group controlling the pocket of Douma, reached an agreement with the Russian-backed Syrian regime.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based Syrian war monitor, said that Jaish Al Islam and the Syrian government agreed on a settlement to secure those who wish to stay in Douma, allow the evacuation of those who want to leave, surrender heavy artillery to the Syrian regime and allow police to be deployed in the city.

The Observatory said some 1,300 civilians and fighters are expected to leave the besieged pocket and that the first group has already left the city and will be heading to northern Syria. The monitoring group says more than 1,600 civilians have been killed in eastern Ghouta sine the Syrian government’s offensive started in February 2018.

According to the Response Coordinators in the North, a civil group working in north Syria to help displaced civilians, more than 47,000 civilians and fighters from eastern Ghouta have reached Idlib.