Russian military offers fighters and families free passage out of Eastern Ghouta

nsnbc : The Russian and Syrian military offered insurgents safe passage out of Eastern Ghouta, setting out an agreement by which the fighters in opposition to the Syrian government would surrender their last major stronghold near the Syrian capital Damascus and the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Syrian Al-Qaeda franchize Jabhat al-Nusra and affiliated battle groups are preventing the evacuation of civilians for the 9th day.

Syria, East Ghouta safe corridor, Mar 2018The Russian Ministry of Defense said rebels in Eastern Ghouta could leave with their families and personal weapons through a secure corridor out of Eastern Ghouta (East Ghouta). Syrian, Russian and allied troops are making rapid gains in concentrated assaults.

The Russian Defense Ministry’s proposal did not specify where the rebels would go, but the terms echo previous deals by which insurgents have ceded ground to Syrian government forces and been given safe passage to other “opposition-held territory” in Idlib province near the Turkish border. It is in Idlib that Turkey currently focuses its support of Islamist insurgents under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), creating a buffer and springboard for attacks against Syrian Kurds in Aleppo province.

“The Russian Reconciliation Centre guarantees the immunity of all rebel fighters who take the decision to leave eastern Ghouta with personal weapons and together with their families,” said the Defense Ministry statement. Vehicles would “be provided, and the entire route will be guarded”, it added.

The spokesman for one of the main rebel groups in eastern Ghouta, Failaq al-Rahman, said Russia was “insisting on military escalation and imposing forced displacement” on the people of Eastern Ghouta. Some 400,000 are living there according to UN figures.  The Syrian army has captured more than a third of the enclave in recent days, aiming to slice it in two to weaken the resistance and according to some analysts, to divide so-called “moderate rebels” who at the end of the day could be party to a negotiated settlement, from terrorist organizations like the Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. Both Russia and Syria have insisted that the current, U.N.-brokered ceasefire does not encompass Al-Nusra and other organizations designated as terrorists by the UN Security Council.

Further military progress and the evacuation of non-combatant civilians is being complicated due to the fact that Jabhat al-Nusra and affiliated terrorist organizations and battle-groups (kitab), for the 9th consecutive day, prevent civilians from exiting Eastern Ghouta through the safe corridor in al-Wafideen Camp so that they can keep using the civilians as human shields. The daily truce in Ghouta to allow civilians to leave the area starts from 09:00 a.m. till 02:00 p.m of each day but Al-Nusra and other gangs threaten and in some cases fire upon those who attempt to leave.

UN experts investigate, "protected" by the perpetrators. STR/EPA

UN experts investigate, “protected” by the perpetrators on orders of Liwa-al-Islam chief Zahran Alloush. . STR/EPA

The strategic significance of East Ghouta and the Jobar Entrance

East Ghouta is of enormous strategic significance. Control over Eastern Ghouta allows the remaining insurgents near the capital Damascus to receive new reserves and recruits as well as weapons, munitions and other vital supplies from Lebanon, the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights, as well as from Jordan – and via Jordan from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. – among others.

An in-depth investigation by  nsnbc international chief editor Christof Lehmann concluded that the final decision to launch the August 2013 chemical weapons attack in East Ghouta, under the supervision and direct orders from Liwa-al-Islam chief Zahran Alloush, was made to use “all means” to prevent that the Jobar Entrance and Eastern Ghouta would be taken by the Syrian Arab Army.

F/AK – nsnbc 07.03.2018

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