Opposition fighters begin leaving Eastern Ghouta

Civilians and fighters arrive in Qalaat Al-Madiq after being evacuated from the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma. (AFP)
Updated 03 April 2018

Opposition fighters begin leaving Eastern Ghouta

DAMASCUS: Syria’s regime drew closer to taking full control of Eastern Ghouta on Monday as state media reported that fighters began evacuating the last opposition-held pocket of the former opposition stronghold near Damascus.
A Russian-brokered deal had been reported on Sunday for fighters with Jaish Al-Islam, the largest opposition group still in Ghouta, to leave the enclave’s main town of Douma.
But the fighters have not yet confirmed the agreement, amid reports of divisions in the group as hard-line militants refuse to abandon their posts.
The retaking of Eastern Ghouta would mark a major milestone in Bashar Assad’s efforts to regain control of territory seized by opposition factions during Syria’s seven-year civil war.
Meanwhile, a senior US Republican senator on Sunday warned President Donald Trump against pulling American troops from Syria, saying it would lead to a resurgence of Daesh and increased Iranian sway over the Syrian regime in Damascus.
“It’d be the single worst decision the president could make,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on the Fox News Sunday program.
“We got ISIL (Daesh) on the ropes. You want to let ‘em off the ropes, remove American soldiers,” Graham said.
Assad’s forces have retaken 95 percent of Eastern Ghouta since launching a blistering assault on the besieged enclave on Feb. 18, killing 1,600 civilians and displacing tens of thousands more.
State media on Monday said Jaish Al-Islam fighters and members of their families had started leaving Douma in preparation for them heading to an opposition-held town in northern Syria.
“Twelve buses carrying 629 Jaish Al-Islam terrorists and their families exited Douma ... in preparation of them being transported to Jarabulus,” state news agency SANA said, using the regime’s term for all opposition fighters.
But journalists on the ground said both the regime and the opposition fighters had restricted access to the evacuation operation from Douma.
Pro-regime newspaper Al-Watan said in an editorial on Monday it was a matter of hours until Douma was declared a “town empty of terrorism.”
“The town of Douma has come closer to joining other villages and areas of (Eastern) Ghouta taken back by the army,” it said.
The fighters have been negotiating with Russia, a key ally of Assad, for days on an agreement to evacuate Douma.
Late on Sunday, Russian news agency Interfax quoted General Yuri Yevtushenko as saying a “preliminary deal” had been reached to evacuate Jaish Al-Islam fighters.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group on Monday reported divisions within the ranks of Jaish Al-Islam, which has previously said it would not leave Douma.
“There are attempts to convince the hard-line wing of Jaish Al-Islam not to obstruct the agreement with the Russians,” said the head of the Britain-based monitor, Rami Abdel Rahman.
In video footage published by Jaish Al-Islam online on Sunday, the group’s leader told a group of men in a mosque he would stay put.
“We will stay in this town and will not leave. Those who want to leave should leave,” Essam Al-Buidani says in the video, although it was unclear when it was filmed.
Jaish Al-Islam counts around 10,000 fighters, according to the Observatory.
Backed by Russia, Assad’s forces have scored a series of victories over opposition forces in recent years, often through campaigns of siege, aerial bombardment and ground offensives that have drawn widespread international condemnation.
Before Feb. 18, some 400,000 people in Eastern Ghouta had lived under regime siege for five years, facing severe food and medicine shortages.
After pounding it with airstrikes, regime forces have taken back most of the enclave through a combination of ground assaults and Russia-brokered evacuation deals.
In the past few weeks, these deals have seen more than 46,000 people — fighters and civilians — board buses with scant belongings to be driven to the northwestern province of Idlib, which is largely outside regime control.
These include more than 1,000 people — fighters from another faction, Faylaq Al-Rahman, and family members — who left Douma late Sunday, according to state media.


Lebanese lawmakers to defy naming of new PM

Updated 07 December 2019

Lebanese lawmakers to defy naming of new PM

  • Saad Hariri submitted the resignation of his government on Oct. 29 as a result of ongoing mass protests against corruption

BEIRUT: Three lawmakers and members of Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s parliamentary bloc will not abide by its decision to name a new prime minister on Monday. 

Meanwhile, activists in the civil movement are holding meetings to announce a general strike and the blocking of roads on Monday in protest over reports that the new government will not include technocrats.

Samir Al-Khatib is considered the most favored candidate after preliminary consultations conducted by Aoun with his allies prior to setting the date for binding parliamentary consultations to nominate a Sunni prime minister, as required by the Lebanese constitution.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri submitted the resignation of his government on Oct. 29 as a result of ongoing mass protests against corruption. He later said he would not agree to head a new government unless it consisted of technocrats.

Lawmaker Neemat Frem urged citizens to provide him with the name of their favorite candidate to head the new government, “for you are the primary source of authority, and it is my duty to convey your voice in the binding parliamentary consultations.”

Lawmaker Chamel Roukoz said he will not nominate anyone for the position of prime minister.

Lawmaker Michel Daher declared his intention to boycott the parliamentary consultations if Al-Khatib is the only candidate.

Aoun assured a delegation of British financial and investment institutions, and US bank Morgan Stanley, that binding parliamentary consultations will take place on Monday to form a new government, which will help Lebanon’s friends launch agreed-to development projects.

“The new government’s priority will be to address the economic and financial conditions as soon as it is formed,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Samir Al-Khatib is considered the most favored candidate after preliminary consultations conducted by Aoun with his allies prior to setting the date for binding parliamentary consultations to nominate a Sunni prime minister, as required by the Lebanese constitution.

On Friday, Hariri sent letters to the leaders of a number of countries with good relations with Lebanon. 

He asked them to help Lebanon secure credit to import goods from these countries, in order to ensure food security and availability of raw materials for production in various sectors.

His media office said the move “is part of his efforts to address the shortage of financial liquidity, and to secure procuring the basic import requirements for citizens.”

Among the leaders Hariri wrote to are Saudi Arabia’s King Salman; the presidents of France, Russia, Egypt and Turkey; the prime ministers of China and Italy; and the US secretary of state.

On Dec. 11, Paris is due to host a meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon. Reuters quoted a European source as saying: “France has already sent invitations to attend the group meeting.”

Protesters continued their sit-ins in front of government institutions in Nabatieh, Zahle and Saida.

In Tripoli, protesters blocked the city’s main roads, which were eventually reopened by the army.

In Akkar, protesters raided public institutions and called for an “independent government that fights corruption, restores looted funds, and rescues the economic situation and living conditions from total collapse.”

Lebanese designer Robert Abi Nader canceled a fashion show that was due to be organized in Downtown Beirut, where protesters are gathering. 

Abi Nader said he intended through his show to express support for the protests by designing a special outfit called “the bride of the revolution,” and revenues were to be dedicated to families in need.