Russian Military Says Syrian Rebels Can Leave Ghouta

Desiree Steele
March 8, 2018

Eight hundred civilians - including at least 177 children - have been killed since Russia-backed regime forces launched an assault on the besieged enclave outside Damascus on Feb 18, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in its latest death toll.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 68 people were killed Monday.

Syrian government forces bombarded eastern Ghouta anew on Wednesday in an effort to slice the rebel enclave in two, intensifying a campaign to deal the opposition its biggest defeat since 2016.

Russian Federation has offered rebel fighters in Eastern Ghouta safe exit from the region if they agree to surrender their enclave to government forces, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

After six and a half years collecting evidence, commission members said on Tuesday that they planned to work vigorously on behalf of the victims but emphasized "there can be no trade-off between justice for the victims and a viable political solution" to the conflict.

But anti-government groups holding out in eastern Ghouta say they will not be swayed by psychological tactics.

In the latest attempt to end the seven-year war, the foreign ministers of government allies Iran and Russian Federation and rebel backer Turkey are to meet next week in Astana.

"But the children of Douma and the children of eastern Ghouta unfortunately do, and that's what makes the situation very, very dramatic", he said.

"People were afraid", he said, "They didn't want government troops to reach their doorsteps and kill them and their families", Khouli said.

Nine civilians were killed in the town of Jisreen early Tuesday, the Observatory said.

"We have received instructions from the army command to lift the siege off our people in eastern Ghouta", the colonel said in a broadcast near the town of Mesraba.

Air strikes continued Tuesday. Russian airstrikes are hitting Eastern Ghouta.

"The reports could not be independently confirmed", the AP notes, "and Russian Federation used its Security Council veto to freeze the work of a United Nations body investigating such reports earlier this year". It says the rebels are also free to leave the enclave with their weapons and families unhindered.

She spoke from Damascus to The Associated Press as a 46-truck convoy was entering the town of Douma in eastern Ghouta, marking the first delivery of humanitarian assistance to the area in almost three weeks.

"Russia has gone on to ignore (a United Nations ceasefire's) terms and to kill innocent civilians under the false auspices of counter-terrorism operations", the White House said in a statement.

Laerke said the team found a desperate situation for people who have endured months without access to humanitarian aid.

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