Russia: Syrian Government Gains Control of Eastern Ghouta
The Syrian government is now in control of the last rebel holdout in the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, the Russian military said on Thursday, according to the Associated Press.
There was no immediate confirmation that Syrian troops and allied forces had entered Douma, but the Russian defense ministry said the situation in the town was “normalizing.”
The Syrian flag was reportedly raised in Douma, signaling that the area has been brought under government control, according to Agence France-Presse.
“The raising of a regime flag over a building in the town of Douma signified control over this town and consequently over Eastern Ghouta as a whole,” Major General Yury Yevtushenko was quoted as saying.
Thursday’s announcement comes after more than 1,500 people, including rebels and their families, have been evacuated from Douma over the past 24 hours. More than 13,500 people, including rebels, have left Douma this month, the defense ministry said.
The evacuations are part of a Russian-mediated deal brokered between the Jaish al-Islam rebel group and the Syrian government. Under the agreement, the Syrian government grants rebels safe exit to northern Syria in return for the release of hundreds of hostages and prisoners held by the group. The deal also grants an offer of reconciliation for those rebels who wish to stay in Douma.
Meanwhile, Russian military police started to patrol Douma on Thursday, the defense ministry said, according to AFP. “From today, units of the Russian armed forces’ military police are working in the town of Douma. They are a guarantee of the observance of law and order in the town,” the defense ministry said in a statement.
If confirmed, the capture of Douma would bring the entire Eastern Ghouta region under government control for the first time since 2012. It would also mark the end of a seven-week-long government campaign that has killed more than 1,600 people.
Trump Says He May Strike Syria ‘Very Soon Or Not So Soon At All!’
U.S. president Donald Trump said on Thursday that a strike on Syria may happen “very soon or not so soon at all!” the Associated Press reported.
Trump’s statement on Twitter comes one day after he warned Russia and Syria that missiles “will be coming,” in response to this weekend’s suspected poison gas attack on the town of Douma that killed more than 40 people.
Meanwhile, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Wednesday that no final decision has been taken yet on whether to strike Syria, the AP reported.
Her remarks were made after President Donald Trump’s national security team met to discuss the U.S. response to the alleged attack.
Sanders said the U.S. is confident that the Syrian government and Russia are to blame for the alleged attack. However, U.S. defense secretary Jim Mattis said on Wednesday the U.S. was still assessing evidence over who was behind the incident, according to Reuters.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday that 500 people showed “signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals” after the suspected poison gas attack on Saturday, according to Reuters. “In particular, there were signs of severe irritation of mucous membranes, respiratory failure and disruption to central nervous systems of those exposed,” WHO said in a statement.
WHO did not confirm whether an actual chemical attack took place but said that at least 43 people killed on Saturday demonstrated “symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals.”
- The Associated Press: AP News Guide: Potential for Escalation in Syria Abounds
- The New York Times: The U.S. Has Troops in Syria. So Do the Russians and Iranians. Here’s Where.
- International Rescue Committee: Without a Strategy, U.S. Airstrikes Mean More Danger for Syrian Civilians
- The Washington Post: Trump Is Making Less Sense Than Ever
- ABC News: Donald Trump Has Apparently Flipped on Vladimir Putin, but It’s Not Just About Syria