Pressure mounts on Syria rebels to quit Ghouta holdout

Pressure mounts on Syria rebels to quit Ghouta holdout

Pressure mounts on Syria rebels to quit Ghouta holdout

Pressure was mounting on March 28 for rebels to accept a negotiated withdrawal from their final holdout in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta, as hundreds boarded buses to leave another part of the battered enclave.

Thousands of opposition fighters and civilians have agreed to quit the former rebel bastion of Ghouta, target of a five-week-long assault by the regime.

Syrian troops have recaptured more than 90 percent of Ghouta, and are draining the last opposition pockets with negotiated pull-outs mediated by Russia.

Moscow has secured two such deals already and has been pressing Jaish al-Islam, the rebel faction in control of the third and final pocket of the enclave near Damascus, to leave too.

The group holds Ghouta’s largest town of Douma, whose population has swelled to an estimated 200,000 with people displaced from other devastated districts.

Jaish al-Islam had hoped to reach a settlement that would avoid their evacuation, but they were now facing the specter of a renewed blitz on Douma.

Syrian troops were clustering around the town for a second day on Wednesday, Syria’s Al-Watan daily reported.

“The Syrian army amassed further around Douma to increase pressure on Jaish al-Islam to accept a reconciliation deal, like those in neighboring towns and cities in Eastern Ghouta,” it said.

The armed faction was also under growing pressure from Douma’s residents, several hundred of whom descended into the town’s main square on March 28.

They marched down streets lined by crumbling buildings, demanding to know how negotiations with Russia were going and calling for the release of people held by Jaish al-Islam, residents told AFP in Beirut.