The Latest: Syrian gov’t: Rebels to exit last Ghouta town

The Latest: Syrian gov't: Rebels to exit last Ghouta town
The Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the Syrian conflict (all times local):

4:15 p.m.

Syrian state media says rebels have agreed to give up their last foothold in the eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus and withdraw to north Syria.

The SANA news agency says the Army of Islam group agreed Sunday to leave Douma, three days after the government resumed its assault on the besieged town. It says tens of buses have been sent to the town to pick up prisoners freed by the rebel group and to transport rebel fighters to opposition-held territory in north Syria.

The development comes hours after unconfirmed reports by first responders that the government had used chemical weapons against the town, asphyxiating at least 40 people.

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4:05 p.m.

Turkey’s foreign ministry has condemned an attack on the rebel-held town of Douma near the Syrian capital, which activists say has killed at least 40 people.

In a statement Sunday, Turkey said there was “strong suspicion” that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons, killing civilians. The Syrian regime has denied the allegations.

The Turkish statement said Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime has “once again ignored” international agreements banning chemical weapons. It called on the international community to prevent, stop and punish such attacks, calling them an indiscriminate “crime against humanity.”

Turkey has been critical of the Syrian regime since the start of the civil war, increasingly entrenched in the conflict there.

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1:40 p.m.

Syrian state media say rebels in Douma have asked to restart negotiations to stop the government’s assault on the town, their last remaining stronghold in the eastern Ghouta suburbs of the capital.

State-affiliated al-Ikhbariya TV says the government has demanded Army of Islam rebels release prisoners and stop their shelling of Damascus as a precondition to restarting talks.

Al-Ikhbariya says government forces have granted a two-hour cease-fire to allow rebels to comply. It said the government met with a delegation of rebels on Sunday.

The Army of Islam was negotiating with Russia to evacuate its fighters from Douma, hand over its heavy weapons, release its prisoners, and allow the government to restore its authority over the town, amid a crippling government siege. Those talks collapsed on Friday, prompting the government to start shelling and bombing the town indiscriminately.

First responders say at least 40 people in Douma were killed late Saturday in suspicious circumstances. They allege the government mounted a poison gas attack. The government denied the accusations.

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1:10 p.m.

Russia’s military is rejecting claims that Syrian government forces used chemical weapons in an attack on the rebel-held town of Douma.

Maj. Gen. Yuri Yevtushenko was quoted by Russian news agencies on Sunday as saying Russia was prepared to “promptly send Russian specialists in radiation, chemical and biological protection to Douma after its liberation from fighters to gather data that will confirm the fabricated nature of these statements.”

Yevtushenko said “a number of Western countries” are trying to prevent the resumption of an operation to remove Army of Islam fighters from Douma and “to this end they are using the West’s pet theme of the use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces.”

Russia is a key ally of President Bashar Assad, whose forces have been accused of using chemical weapons in past attacks that killed hundreds of people. The Syrian government has denied ever using chemical weapons.

Opposition-linked Syrian medics and first responders say a chemical attack in Douma late Saturday killed at least 40 people. The reports could not be independently confirmed.

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9:30 a.m.

Syrian activists, rescuers and medics say a poison gas attack on a rebel-held town near the capital has killed at least 40 people.

The alleged attack in the town of Douma occurred Saturday night amid a resumed offensive by Syrian government forces after the collapse of a truce.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 80 people were killed in Douma Saturday, including around 40 who died from suffocation.

Opposition-linked first responders, known as the White Helmets, also reported the attack, saying entire families were found suffocated in their houses and shelters. It reported a death toll from suffocation of more than 40.

The Syrian American Medical Society, a relief organization, says 41 people were killed and hundreds wounded.

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