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Executive Summary for March 26th

We review the key developments in Syria, including mass evacuations from the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, Turkey saying it will target the town of Tal Rifaat and an ISIS attack in east Syria killing at least 26 pro-government fighters.

Published on March 26, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Thousands Evacuate Eastern Ghouta, Leaving One Last Pocket Under Opposition Control

More than 5,400 people, including rebels and their families, evacuated the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus on Sunday, in the largest single-day evacuation from the region, Agence France-Presse reported.

The evacuations from the towns of Arbin and Zamalka and the district of Jobar on Sunday marked the second consecutive day in which fighters and civilians fled a pocket under the control of the Failaq al-Rahman rebel group as part of a Russian-mediated evacuation deal.

Around 980 people left Zamalka, Arbin and Ain Tarma on Saturday as part of the same arrangement, which grants fighters and their families a safe exit to opposition-held territory in Syria’s north and an offer of reconciliation for those who wish to stay.

Failaq al-Rahman is the second rebel group in Eastern Ghouta to strike an evacuation deal with the Syrian government and its allies. Last week, more than 4,500 people, including 1,500 fighters, left the Eastern Ghouta town of Harasta for the rebel-held Idlib province after the Ahrar al-Sham rebel group reached an evacuation agreement with Russian forces.

The evacuations by Ahrar al-Sham and Failaq al-Rahman leave only the town of Douma, the most populous area in East Ghouta, under rebel control.

Jaish al-Islam, the rebel faction in charge of Douma, said on Sunday it would not pull out of the region as other rebels have done, according to Reuters. A military spokesman for the group said that rebels are negotiating an arrangement with Russia that would allow them “to stay in Ghouta and not to leave it.”

The evacuation of Ahrar al-Sham and Failaq al-Rahman rebels brings the Syrian government one step closer to securing full control over the last rebel bastion near the Syrian capital.

According to AFP, more than 90 percent of Eastern Ghouta has fallen under government control since Damascus launched an offensive in the area on February 18.

The recapture of Eastern Ghouta, which fell to rebel forces in 2012, would spell the single greatest victory for government forces since rebels were driven from east Aleppo in 2016.

Turkey to Target New Kurdish-Held Town as Part of Syria Campaign

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that the northern town of Tal Rifaat would be the next target of Ankara’s cross-border campaign in Syria, AFP reported.

The area is controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces – Washington’s primary partner in Syria – according to AFP.

Erdogan’s announcement comes after the Turkish military said it has secured complete control over the Kurdish enclave of Afrin following an eight-week campaign targeting the Kurdish YPG militia in the region, Reuters reported.

Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a designated terrorist group that has carried out a number of attacks inside Turkey in recent years.

ISIS Attack in East Syria Kills Dozens of Government Loyalists

At least 26 pro-government fighters were killed in clashes with the so-called Islamic State in eastern Syria on Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

At least nine ISIS militants were also killed in the fighting in the Mayadeen desert in Deir Ezzor province, near the border with Iraq, the monitoring group said.

According to the SOHR, clashes broke out after ISIS militants launched a surprise offensive on government positions in the area with the aim of inflicting high casualties among pro-government fighters.

Saturday’s operation is at least the second ISIS attack on pro-government forces in eastern Syria this month. The militant group reportedly killed some 14 pro-government fighters in a flash attack on government positions around the T2 pumping station in southern Deir Ezzor on March 17.

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