Pro-Turkey Syria rebels allow in stranded Ghouta fighters, civilians

Pro-Turkey Syria rebels allow in stranded Ghouta fighters, civilians
AFP Nazeer al-Khatib

Beirut (Lebanon) (AFP) – A convoy of 3,800 people evacuated from Eastern Ghouta, including fighters from the Jaish al-Islam rebel group, was allowed to enter the northern Syrian town of Al-Bab on Wednesday after being stalled by pro-Turkey rebels, a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the group was being let in “after the order was given by Turkish authorities” to rebels controlling the region.

Dozens of people demonstrated earlier in Al-Bab to demand rebels allow the Islamist fighters to enter, an AFP correspondent reported.

The evacuees in buses — including 1,300 Jaish al-Islam fighters — had been stranded for several hours between the last regime checkpoint in the village of Abu Zindein and the area controlled by rebels, the Britain-based Syria Observatory for Human Rights said.

It said a similar convoy from Eastern Ghouta had been held up on Tuesday before the local rebels confiscated the light arms of more than 1,100 Jaish al-Islam fighters.  

Jaish al-Islam is the group that controlled Douma, the main city in Eastern Ghouta and the last area in the one-time rebel enclave that regime and allied forces have not fully retaken.

Rebels from other groups have already been evacuated as part of deals brokered by Russia following a weeks-long air and ground offensive that killed more than 1,600 civilians.

Talks with Jaish al-Islam were more complicated, notably because the group has had strained relations with rival, Turkish-backed factions.

More than 7,000 people have already been evacuated from the Douma area in recent days, around a third of them fighters.

Russia and Syria resumed bombardment of the Douma area when talks for Jaish al-Islam’s evacuation sputtered last week, culminating in an alleged chemical strike on Saturday.

Russia claimed Wednesday that the attack was staged, and accused the United States of fabricating evidence to justify punitive missile strikes.

It also said Eastern Ghouta had been completely stabilised and that units of Russian military police would be deployed across Douma on Thursday.