Syrian regime flag raised in Douma, rebels surrender heavy arms in Ghouta

Updated 13 April 2018
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Syrian regime flag raised in Douma, rebels surrender heavy arms in Ghouta

  • Syrian rebel group Jaish Al-Islam says a chemical attack by the regime had forced them to accept Russia’s terms
  • Russia-backed assault has left at least 1,700 civilians dead

DAMASCUS: Rebels in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta surrendered their heavy weapons as their leader joined a convoy out of the enclave, a monitor said on Thursday, signalling an end to one of the bloodiest assaults of Syria’s seven-year war.

The Syrian flag was raised above the central mosque in Douma, the town where the regime is accused of carrying out a chemical attack that sparked outrage and threats of Western military action.

Jaish Al-Islam, which has controlled Eastern Ghouta’s main town for years, had balked at a Russian-brokered deal similar to those that allowed other factions to be bussed to northern Syria.

The group’s political chief told AFP that a chemical attack by the regime had forced them to accept Russia’s terms and leave their former bastion.

“Of course, the chemical attack is what pushed us to agree” to a withdrawal, said Yasser Dalwan.

Syrian regime forces had yet to take over Douma on Thursday, but according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the rebels had surrendered their heavy weapons.

“Jaish Al-Islam fighters handed over their heavy weapons to Russian military police in the town of Douma on Wednesday,” the Britain-based monitoring group said.

Their leader, Issam Buwaydani, joined a convoy out of Ghouta with thousands of other fighters, it said.

“Not all the leadership has left yet. Departures are ongoing,” Dalwan said.

Douma residents said Syria’s national flag was raised above the main mosque on Wednesday. But a dispute subsequently erupted, shots were fired and the flag was taken down.

Russian military police, who had started deploying in Douma as part of a deal that would allow some rebels to disarm and stay in the town, also left after the incident, residents said.

Simultaneously carrying out air strikes and supervising humanitarian operations, Russia was the key player in an assault that left at least 1,700 civilians dead.

“Today a significant event in the history of Syria took place,” Maj. Gen. Yury Yevtushenko, head of the Russian military’s center for reconciliation in Syria, was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

“The raising of a regime flag signified control over Douma and consequently over Eastern Ghouta as a whole,” he said.

Moscow also said Russian military police had returned to the town and were in full control. “From today, units of the Russian armed forces’ military police are working in the town of Douma,” the defense ministry said.


US accepts Assad staying in Syria — but will not give aid

Updated 18 December 2018
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US accepts Assad staying in Syria — but will not give aid

  • James Jeffrey said that Assad needed to compromise as he had not yet won the brutal seven-year civil war
  • Trump’s administration has acknowledged, if rarely so explicitly, that Assad is likely to stay

WASHINGTON: The US said Monday it was no longer seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad but renewed warnings it would not fund reconstruction unless the regime is “fundamentally different.”

James Jeffrey, the US special representative in Syria, said that Assad needed to compromise as he had not yet won the brutal seven-year civil war, estimating that some 100,000 armed opposition fighters remained in Syria.

“We want to see a regime that is fundamentally different. It’s not regime change —  we’re not trying to get rid of Assad,” Jeffrey said at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.

Estimating that Syria would need $300-400 billion to rebuild, Jeffrey warned that Western powers and international financial institutions would not commit funds without a change of course.

“There is a strong readiness on the part of Western nations not to ante up money for that disaster unless we have some kind of idea that the government is ready to compromise and thus not create yet another horror in the years ahead,” he said.

Former President Barack Obama had called for Assad to go, although he doubted the wisdom of a robust US intervention in the complex Syrian war. and kept a narrow military goal of defeating the Daesh extremist group.

President Donald Trump’s administration has acknowledged, if rarely so explicitly, that Assad is likely to stay.

But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned in October that the US would not provide “one single dollar” for Syria’s reconstruction if Iran stays.

Jeffrey also called for the ouster of Iranian forces, whose presence is strongly opposed by neighboring Israel, although he said the US accepted that Tehran would maintain some diplomatic role in the country.

Jeffrey also said that the US wanted a Syria that does not wage chemical weapons attacks or torture its own citizens.

He acknowledged, however, that the US may not find an ally anytime soon in Syria, saying: “It doesn’t have to be a regime that we Americans would embrace as, say, qualifying to join the European Union if the European Union would take Middle Eastern countries.”