Douma rebels succumb under pressure to leave Damascus side
DAMASCUS, April 8 (Xinhua) -- It seems like the decision to completely end the presence of rebels in Eastern Ghouta countryside of Damascus is serious, as the rebels' latest attempt to stay in their last stronghold in Douma didn't work out and was met with a ferocious response.
A fresh agreement between the Islam Army and the Syrian government under the mediation of Russia was reached on Sunday, after two days of an intense military showdown in Douma, the last rebel-held area in Eastern Ghouta.
The escalation of battles came against the backdrop of the rebels' failure to live up to their previous pledges to leave Douma toward the rebel-held city of Jarablus and release the kidnapped people to the government side.
But after over 2,963 rebels of Islam Army and their families evacuated Douma in three batches earlier this month, the fourth batch didn't leave as planned on Friday, with the state media in Syria saying the conflict among the Islam Army commanders was the reason.
Later on, the militants started firing mortar shells on the capital and suspended the release of thousands of kidnapped people from their captivity, which later appeared to be a new bid to adjust the previous deal reached with Russia.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Islam Army rebels who evacuated Douma faced difficulties when reaching areas under the control of the Turkey-backed rebels in northern Syria.
Instead, the militants wanted to stay in Douma while keeping their weapons with them, contrary to what had been agreed upon previously that the rebels must hand over their heavy and medium weapons to the government side ahead of evacuating Douma.
The Russian side, however, made a list of demands, mainly that the rebels need to surrender their weapons and enlist in a police force, which is to be formed by the Russian side in Douma.
But this didn't resonate with the rebels and the falling negotiations prompted the government side to launch a massive assault by airstrikes and ground shelling on Douma, succeeding to storm the farmlands east of Douma.
The intense shelling has pushed the Islam Army rebels to call for renewed negotiations on Sunday morning, which led to agreeing on a new deal, technically similar to the first one as they must release the kidnapped people and evacuate Douma.
The process of evacuation and release of kidnapped people will start within 48 hours after the new deal was reached on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the state news agency SANA said tens of buses, which had withdrawn from the vicinity of Douma when the first agreement failed, returned to the Wafideen area on Sunday after the new deal was reached.
The buses should be evacuating the Islam Army rebels toward Jarablus.
Citing an official source, SANA said the Syrian government agreed to engage in the new negotiations on Sunday to spare the blood of the civilians in Douma and to ensure the release of all the kidnapped people from the Islam Army's prisons.
The unnamed source was cited by SANA as saying the Islam Army militants gave in after the "painful strikes" they received during the "decisive military campaign."
The full evacuation of the rebels and their families from Douma will be the last evacuation of Eastern Ghouta, as the entire region has been captured by the Syrian army after 43,000 rebels and their families left other areas of Eastern Ghouta late last month.