New Batch of Evacuations From Last Rebel Pocket in Eastern Ghouta
A new batch of rebel fighters and their families evacuated the last rebel pocket in the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported, citing Syrian state media.
The evacuation of Jaish al-Islam fighters and their families on Tuesday marks the second consecutive day of transfers from the embattled town of Douma. More than 1,100 people were evacuated on Monday, the Russian military said.
It was not immediately clear how many people were evacuated on Tuesday, but the Russian defense ministry on Wednesday said that 3,000 rebel fighters and their families have been evacuated from Douma since Sunday, according to the AP.
The Russian military on Wednesday also said it expected evacuations from Douma to be completed within the coming days. The complete evacuation of Jaish al-Islam fighters would effectively transfer complete control of the Eastern Ghouta region to Syrian government forces. It would also mark the end of a government campaign that has lasted more than a month and killed at least 1,600 people.
Pro-government media claims the evacuations are part of an agreement between the Syrian government and Jaish al-Islam, the last remaining rebel group in Eastern Ghouta. However, the rebel faction has yet to officially confirm the deal, which effectively amounts to a surrender to government forces.
The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims the rebel group is split between those who want to evacuate Douma and a group of hard-liners who would rather stay and fight government forces, the AP said.
Trump Says It’s Time to Leave Syria Despite Warnings From Advisers
President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he was seriously considering pulling U.S. troops out of Syria now that the so-called Islamic State is nearly defeated, Reuters reported.
“It’s time,” Trump told reporters at a news conference. “We were very successful against (Islamic State). We’ll be successful against anybody militarily. But sometimes it’s time to come back home, and we’re thinking about that very seriously.”
This is the second time in less than a week that Trump has said he was thinking of pulling Washington’s approximately 2,000 troops in Syria out of the war-torn country. However, Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy for the coalition against ISIS, said on Tuesday there was still work to be done in Syria.
“We are in Syria to fight ISIS. That is our mission and our mission isn’t over and we are going to complete that mission,” he was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, who oversees U.S. troops in the Middle East as the head of Central Command, warned on Tuesday that there was still hard work to be done to stabilize areas captured from militants.
“The hard part, I think, is in front of us, and that is stabilizing these areas, consolidating our gains, getting people back into their homes,” Votel said, adding “there is a military role in this.”
- Reuters: Russia, Iran and Turkey Struggle to Find Common Ground on Syria
- Agence France-Presse: Broken by Siege, Syria Rebels Face Worst Loss Yet in Ghouta
- Euronews: Syria Conflict: ‘Bigger Role’ for E.U.?
- Foreign Policy: Trump Contradicts Top Officials on Syria Policy
- The Times of Israel: Mixed Messages From Washington Over Syria Raise Concerns in Israel