Russia says ‘terrorists nearly wiped out’ of Syria’s Western Ghouta

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a joint press conference with UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura following their talks in Moscow on March 29, 2018

Moscow (AFP) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday said Syrian forces had “nearly wiped out the terrorists” in the rebel-held enclave of Western Ghouta.

Backed by the Russian military since 2015, the Syrian regime in February launched a massive offensive against rebels in the Damascus suburb, killing more that 1,600 civilians.

“As a result of this anti-terrorism operation in Western Ghouta, terrorist elements have nearly been wiped out of this suburb of the Syrian capital,” Lavrov said at press conference in Moscow after meeting UN Syrian envoy Staffan de Mistura.

“Civilian life is going to be re-established there,” Lavrov said, adding that “the majority of the rebels have been evacuated”.

Syrian troops have recaptured more than 90 percent of Ghouta, and are draining the last opposition pockets with negotiated pull-outs mediated by Russia.

Moscow has secured two such deals already and has been pressing Jaish al-Islam, the rebel faction in control of the third and final part of the enclave near Damascus, to leave too.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Thursday negotiations with Jaish al-Islam were continuing.

“There are working group contacts. They contact us, they write letters, they talk on the phone, we meet,” he was quoted as saying by the Ria Novosti agency.

“There exists” some chance that the negotiations could progress, he added.

De Mistura also met with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Choigu who said over the next few days “we are going to begin to bring the people back to their homes in Western Ghouta, and they will be able to lead a normal life”.

He added that “more than 130,000 refugees and more than 11,000 armed fighters” had fled Ghouta via humanitarian corridors.