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Major Syrian regime offensive 'expected' in Eastern Ghouta's Douma as rebels refuse to evacuate Open in fullscreen

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Major Syrian regime offensive 'expected' in Eastern Ghouta's Douma as rebels refuse to evacuate

Syrian regime forces at the entrance of Eastern Ghouta [Getty]

Date of publication: 28 March, 2018

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The Syrian regime is reportedly planning a 'huge' offensive in Douma after the rebel Jaysh al-Islam refused to evacuate the suburb of Damascus.
The Syrian regime is preparing to launch a "huge" offensive in Douma unless the rebel Jaysh al-Islam group hands over the area, agencies reported.

Elsewhere in Eastern Ghouta rebels are leaving the area for Idlib following a withdrawal deal that has seen tens of thousands of civilians and fighters bused out of the once-strong rebel-held enclave.

President Bashar al-Assad's forces now control at least 90 per cent of the Damascus suburb. 

Jaysh al-Islam had previously held talks with Moscow, which backs the Syrian regime, to remain in the area. But Russia demanded a full withdrawal and the rebel group has vowed to remain in Douma, the largest town in Eastern Ghouta. 

“The forces deployed in Ghouta are preparing a huge military operation in Douma if the Jaysh al-Islam terrorists do not agree to hand over the city and depart,” the pro-regime al-Watan newspaper said.

"These two days will be decisive," a Syrian regime official told Reuters, without giving further details. 

Jaysh al-Islam on Tuesday accused Damascus and Moscow of trying to empty out Eastern Ghouta and force demographic changes.

To date, about 121,000 have left Eastern Ghouta -- which had been home to 400,000 -- since the regime offensive began, Russia's UN envoy Vasily Nebenzya told a Security Council meeting on Tuesday. 

Also on Tuesday US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley said that it "should be a day of shame" that the Security has been unable to implement its 24 February 30-day ceasefire.

"History will not be kind when it judges the effectiveness of this council in relieving the suffering of the Syrian people," she said. 

More than 1600 civilians have been killed since the Syrian regime, with Russian backing, began its air and ground offensive in Eastern Ghouta.

Most observers expect Eastern Ghouta to follow the same trajectory as Eastern Aleppo in 2016 -- which fell under Assad's control after a devastating offensive that left thousands of civilians dead from regime fire. 

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