Fighters Evacuate Last Rebel-Held Town in Eastern Ghouta
The largest rebel group in the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus started evacuating the encircled pocket of Douma on Monday, Reuters reported.
Syrian state TV said on Monday that the first group of Jaish al-Islam fighters and their families left Douma on buses en route to northern Syria, according to Reuters.
The transfers are part of an agreement between Jaish al-Islam and the Syrian government that grants rebels safe passage to the northern city of Jarablus in return for their withdrawal from Douma.
The complete evacuation of Jaish al-Islam fighters would effectively transfer complete control over the Eastern Ghouta region to Syrian government forces.
It would also mark the end of a more than a month-long government campaign that has killed at least 1,600 people.
Monday marks the second consecutive day of rebel evacuations from the town of Douma.
Rebel fighters started leaving on Sunday, in the first organized evacuation from the besieged pocket, the Associated Press reported.
Fighters from the Failaq al-Rahman rebel group were taken by bus from Douma toward the northern province of Idlib as part of an agreement between the rebel faction and the Syrian government, the state-run SANA news agency said.
According to the United Kingdom-based monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, some 1,300 people, including fighters, their families and activists have also agreed to leave Douma, the AP said.
Two U.S.-Led Coalition Members Killed in Bombing as Trump Calls for Syria Exit
Two members of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the so-called Islamic State were killed and five others were wounded by an improvised explosive device in northern Syria late on Thursday.
Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy for the coalition, identified the deceased as Master Sgt. Jonathan J. Dunbar, from Austin, Texas, and British soldier Sgt. Matt Tonroe.
According to the Associated Press, the improvised explosive device went off during an operation against an ISIS member in the town of Manbij, where coalition forces operate alongside the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
“Coalition forces, in an advise, assist and accompany capacity with our partners, were conducting a mission to kill or capture a known (I.S.) member when they were struck by an improvised explosive device,” the coalition said in a statement to the AP.
This marks the first attack against coalition forces in Manbij since they helped drive ISIS from the town in 2016.
The attack comes on the same day that President Donald Trump said that U.S. forces would be leaving Syria very soon, according to Reuters.
“We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon,” Trump said on Thursday. “Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon, very soon, we’re coming out,” Trump said. “We’re going to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be.”
Two unidentified “senior administration officials” told Reuters that Trump had also informed his advisers that he wants to pull the United States’ approximately 2,000 troops out of the war-torn country.
Meanwhile, Trump has also ordered the State Department to suspend more than $200 million in funds for recovery efforts in Syria, the New York Times reported on Friday. A State Department official said that the suspension comes as the administration “reassesses its role in the conflict,” according to the NYT.
Departing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had announced the funding in February at a meeting in Kuwait of the global coalition against ISIS.
- The Associated Press: Blast That Killed U.S., U.K. Troops Shook Alley in Syrian Town
- CNN: Who Stands to Gain if Trump Pulls the U.S. Out of Syria?
- Bloomberg: Don’t Expect Trump’s New Hawks to Save the War in Syria
- National Geographic: War in Syria: Stories of Survival and Hope
- Reuters: Syrian Mother Hopes to Reunite Family Shattered by War