Russia says the counter-terrorism operation in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta is coming to an end as government forces and allied fighters advance against foreign-backed militants in the suburban region near Damascus.
“The counter-terrorism operation in East Ghouta is over, only the city of Douma remains under the control of militants,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a briefing in Moscow on Thursday.
She also noted that a significant part of the civilian population had been able to leave Douma through humanitarian corridors organized with the assistance of the Russian military.
“Negotiations are underway on the possibility of a peaceful transfer of control over the city to Syrian government forces,” she added.
Additionally, the Russian spokeswoman voiced alarm over Washington’s plans to fortify its military presence in Syria, saying that heavy equipment is arriving at the American base in the town of al-Tanf, in Homs Province.
“We are still concerned about reports that the United States and its allies are consolidating their illegal military presence in the territory of sovereign Syria. In particular, heavy military equipment is arriving in the zone established by the United States around the settlements of al-Tanf in the southeast of the country,” Zakharova said.
More Syria militants, families leave Ghouta
Earlier on Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that almost 5,300 militants and members of their families had left the Eastern Ghouta town of Arbin on Wednesday, adding that the evacuees would be relocated to Syria’s northwestern Idlib province.
It added that the departure was made possible under agreements reached between the Russian peace and reconciliation center in Syria and the ringleaders of the Faylaq al-Rahman militant group.
“The number of militants, who wish to stop resisting and leave the area of Eastern Ghouta, is not declining. On March 28, 5,290 militants and members of their families left the area through the organized humanitarian corridor and were transported to the province of Idlib by 89 buses,” the statement read.
The Syrian army is conducting a military campaign to liberate Eastern Ghouta from the grip of foreign-backed terrorists who are using civilians as human shields.
Syria has established humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to leave the operation zone, while Russia has been enforcing daily pauses in fighting to facilitate people’s exit.
Holed up inside Eastern Ghouta, militants have been launching indiscriminate mortar and rocket attacks on Damascus, which have resulted in many civilian deaths.
In February, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution demanding a month-long ceasefire across Syria to allow for humanitarian aid deliveries and medical evacuations, but that has failed to reduce terrorist attacks on civilians.
Civilians quit Douma as army gears up for operation
Separately on Thursday, Syria’s official SANA news agency reported that hundreds of civilians, mostly woman and children, had left Douma via the safe corridor in al-Wafideen camp.
Govt. forces are reportedly preparing to stage a massive operation to liberate the last militant-held town in Eastern Ghouta unless the terrorists there agree to surrender.
The Syrian army units, in cooperation with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the Civil Defense organizations, received the civilians and later transported them to the make-shift centers, according to the report.
The departure comes amid reports that the Syrian army is preparing to stage a massive operation to retake Douma if the terrorists holed up there refuse to surrender.