SYRIA (OBSERVATORY) – Syrian government forces raised the Syrian flag in the last stronghold of the armed opposition in the eastern enclave, declaring full control of the city of Douma as fighters withdraw, news agencies reported on Thursday.
The eastern Gauta was the biggest stronghold of the opposition near Damascus, but its opposition factions surrendered after a series of violent attacks by government forces backed by Russia under heavy bombing.
The Army of Islam agreed on Sunday to withdraw from Douma hours after an alleged chemical attack on the city, warning that the United States could retaliate with military strikes. The Syrian government and Russia described the reports as false.
“The lifting of the state flag on a building in the city of Douma controls the site and thus the entire eastern Ghouta,” Russian news agencies quoted Major-General Yuri Yevtushenko, head of the Russian Center for Peace and Reconciliation in Syria, as saying.
Russian military police deployed in Duma on Thursday in accordance with the opposition’s surrender agreement, the Russian news agency said. About 40,000 people, including thousands of opposition fighters and their families, are leaving for other areas controlled by the opposition in northern Syria under the deal.
A Syrian army officer said on the outskirts of the eastern Ghouta that the exit of opposition fighters from Duma is expected to be completed on Thursday.
A Reuters witness said seven vehicles flying the Russian flag with the emblem of the military police were standing near the crossing as well as Syrian police. Two buses were parked at a bus point before the convoy headed north.
Meanwhile, the pro-opposition Orient television channel showed footage of a convoy that had arrived earlier in the northern city of Bab, controlled by opposition groups backed by Turkey. There were men in the area with some guns on their shoulders when the buses arrived. Ambulances were parked nearby.
– Iran stands beside Assad –
Ali Akbar Velayati, chief adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, toured eastern Ghouta on Wednesday, pledging to stand by Syria in the face of “any foreign aggression.”
“Syria’s enemies are angry at the progress of the Syrian army in the face of terrorist groups,” Velayati told state television in Al-Ghouta.
US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that US missiles were “coming” to Syria. Trump and other Western countries are considering military action in response to the suspected chemical attack on Duma.
Trump said on Twitter a possible military strike against Syria “may be very close and may not be.”
Syria and Russia said reports of the attack were fabricated by the opposition and rescue workers in the city and accused the United States of trying to take it as a pretext to attack the Syrian government.
Syrian state television quoted President Bashar al-Assad as saying on Thursday that government victories on the ground were pushing Western countries to raise their voices, but any possible moves from those countries would only further destabilize the region.
Bouthaina Shaaban, Assad’s adviser, described the Syrian army’s restoration of the Eastern press as “a decisive point” in a television interview on Wednesday. She said the defeat of the opposition had prompted the West to wage a “psychological war” by threatening air strikes.
“The consultations are continuing between Syria’s allies … they will not leave the matter as Washington wants,” Shaaban told Meedan television channel, referring to the alliance between Assad, Russia, Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah group.
In a Wednesday tweak, Trump referred to Assad as a “gas-killing animal.” The Syrian president appeared on Wednesday in Damascus amid a group of Islamic scholars from different parts of the world.