Ceasefire in Douma as thousands of Jaysh al-Islam militants agree to leave
Jaysh al-Islam militants holed-up in the Syrian city of Douma have agreed to withdraw, after talks with the Syrian and Russian militaries. A mass evacuation is being prepared and a humanitarian corridor has been set up.
“The Russian Reconciliation Center has held talks with the leaders of Jaysh al-Islam [militant group], during which agreements were reached on a ceasefire and a disarmament of this group, and the resumption of the withdrawal of militants from the town of Douma,” the Russian military said in a statement.
100 buses have arrived in Douma in order to relocate 8,000 Jaysh al-Islam militants and around 40,000 of their family members, the Reconciliation Center said. The Muhayam al-Wafideen checkpoint in Douma has been reopened to organize the withdrawal, it said, adding that hostilities in the area have now ceased.
“This proves once again that no chemical weapons were used in this area and that all the Western accusations against the [Syrian] government troops are nothing more than another fake,” the statement reads.
The Islamist group is to leave Douma for the city of Jarablus within 48 hours, Syrian SANA news agency reported earlier, citing an official source. It said a deal to release all the prisoners has been reached. Damascus agreed to negotiate with one of the last major militant groups holding out in Douma in a bid to protect civilians and liberate abductees.
The radical Islamist group, which has been accused of using civilians as human shields, earlier agreed to leave the enclave of Eastern Ghouta near the Syrian capital. Jaysh al-Islam will have to clear barricades and provide maps of minefields that they have laid in the area. The militants were set to begin withdrawing from the city of Douma on Sunday, the head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Syrian Reconciliation Center, Major General Yury Yevtushenko has said.
Earlier, reports described ongoing fighting to the northeast of Douma. A military source told SANA that the Syrian Army had targeted Jaysh al-Islam positions with artillery fire, rockets and airstrikes in the village of al-Rihan on Sunday.
Douma made headlines on Saturday after rebel-linked activists, including the controversial “civil defense” group the White Helmets, claimed that a chemical attack had injured dozens of civilians there. The unconfirmed reports blamed Damascus for the incident, which in turn rejected them as “fabrications.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry called the chemical-attack reports “fake news,” while noting that it had warned about militants planning false-flag attacks to pin them on Damascus. These are intended to “justify possible military strikes from the outside,” the ministry said.
On March 31, the Syrian Army said it liberated most of Eastern Ghouta and finally lifted the militant blockade of a major highway connecting Damascus to the rest of the country.
Since late February, more than 157,000 people have been evacuated from Eastern Ghouta and as many as 33,345 from Douma, Russia's Ministry of Defense said in a statement on Thursday.
Syrian troops launched their major push on Eastern Ghouta in February, aiming to terminate a militant occupation that had been in place since 2012. Daily humanitarian pauses in the area began on February 27 as part of efforts by the Syrian Army and Russia to help civilians leave the combat zone. The Russian military repeatedly said that the militants were using civilians as human shields, targeting those attempting to flee the terrorist enclave.