A Syrian army colonel says government forces will lift the siege on the militant-held Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, making it possible for people trapped in the embattled enclave to return to the “state’s embrace” soon.
“We have received instructions from the army command to lift the siege off our people in Eastern Ghouta,” Reuters quoted the unnamed official as saying on Syrian state television on Wednesday.
“God willing, very, very, very soon … they will return to the state’s embrace,” the official added.
Meanwhile, state television reported that Syrian army units were attacking militants in the Eastren Ghouta town of Mesraba with preparatory fire to secure the entry of infantry units.
Holed up inside Eastern Ghouta, foreign-backed militants have been launching indiscriminate mortar and rocket attacks on Damascus, which have resulted in many civilian deaths.
The Syrian army, backed by Russian air force, has launched an operation to liberate the region.
Syria has established a humanitarian corridor to allow civilians to leave the operation zone, while Russia has been enforcing daily pauses in fighting from 09:00 a.m. to 02:00 p.m. local time to facilitate the exit of people.
However, the militants have been blocking the exit of civilians, using them as human shields in the face of the government’s counter-terrorism operations.
Earlier in the day, Syria’s official SANA news agency said buses have been waiting near the safe corridor to transport the people leaving Eastern Ghouta to a housing center set up by the government, but no civilians have so far managed to get out.
Additionally on Wednesday, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that some of the anti-Damascus militants in Eastern Ghouta were ready to accept Moscow’s offer to leave the region with their families.
Russia on Tuesday offered militants safe passage out of Eastern Ghouta, stressing that those leaving with personal weapons and their families would be guaranteed immunity from prosecution.
Earlier on Wednesday, however, Hamza Birqdar, the military spokesman of the Takfiri Jaish al-Islam outfit, said militants would stay in Eastern Ghouta and rejected talks of a withdrawal.
“There are no negotiations about this subject. The factions of Ghouta and their fighters and its people are holding onto their land and will defend it,” he told Reuters in a text message.
On February 24, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) 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.
The ceasefire does not apply to terrorist groups such as Daesh and al-Nusra Front as well as “individuals, groups, undertakings and entities” associated with the terror outfits.