More lives lost in Syrian capital and suburbs

On Friday, opposition activists said 40 people were killed in Douma while state media said four were killed in government-held Damascus. Government forces launched a crushing offensive in February and March on eastern Ghouta capturing dozens of towns and villages forcing thousands of opposition fighters to surrender and evacuate the area toward Syria’s north.

A deal was reached last month to evacuate Douma but activists and state media reported that the Army of Islam group demanded amendments to the deal. The Observatory said the Russian response to the Army of Islam with a list of demands including handing over heavy weapons within three days that should be followed by handing over light weapons and in return government forces will withdraw from the outskirts of Douma within a week.

The Observatory also said that the Russians promised the rebels that once they hand over their weapons, airstrikes would stop. It added that fighters who hand over their weapons can join a local police force that will be established in Douma mostly consisting of Army of Islam members who will be given Russians weapons to fight members of the Islamic State group and al-Qaida-linked fighters.

Army of Islam Military spokesman Hamza Bayraqdar told The Associated Press by text message, “the Russians are making humiliating demands that mean surrender and handing over the area. This is something that we categorically reject.”

Russia’s military said the Army of Islam has forced out leaders who were taking part in negotiations to withdraw from Douma and that their fighters have resumed attacks. Maj. Gen. Yuri Yevtushenko, head of the Russian center for reconciliation of the warring parties in Syria, said that “as a result of sharp opposition among the odious militants and those who were prepared to participate in the negotiations process, the former leaders of the group (known as) Abu Humam, Abu Omar and Abu Ali were physically removed.”

He said the information came from a close aide of Abu Humam. In northern Syria, the Turkish military said on its Twitter account that it has established the ninth observation post in the rebel-held province of Idlib as part of the de-escalation agreement with Russia and Iran. Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency said the military convoy reached the town of Morek in Idlib province.

Eastern Ghouta was also part of the same de-escalation plan signed last year in the Kazakh capital Astana. Turkey’s presidential spokesman said that the Turkish military presence in Idlib would serve as a “guarantee” against attacks to ensure that it does not meet the same fate as eastern Ghouta.

Ibrahim Kalin said, “The Russians and the Iranians have a full understanding of this,” adding that the Syrian regime also understands that “Turkish soldiers are not to be attacked in those areas.” Separately, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been threatening to expand the offensive against Syrian Kurdish militants in northern Syria eastward to the town of Tel Rifat. A spokesman for his office, however, said an operation against Tel Rifat might not be needed. He said Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Turkish counterpart that the main Kurdish militia People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization, is no longer present there.


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