Syrian Forces Almost Finished Retaking Rebel Areas Near Damascus

Mar 27, 2018
Originally published on March 27, 2018 8:14 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In Syria, government forces have nearly retaken rebel-held eastern Ghouta near the capital of Damascus. It's been under bombardment by Syria and Russia for weeks. One by one now, rebel groups are making deals to leave. NPR's Ruth Sherlock reports.

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RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: In this video from a local journalist, thin, exhausted fighters and their families stream out of eastern Ghouta and board buses to leave. It's part of a deal to end the fighting. But for the thousands of residents involved, it's also a forced displacement from their homes. They're being taken to Idlib, a rebel province in northern Syria that's still at war. Danny Makki, a British-Syrian journalist who's watched the evacuation from the government side, says some soldiers are angry that the rebels are being given a way out.

DANNY MAKKI: I mean, one of the soldiers I spoke to there, he'd lost a brother, and he was basically saying that they're being let off easily.

SHERLOCK: If the regime wins back eastern Ghouta, which seems likely, it would end any major rebel presence in Damascus and remove what might be the last major threat to the government. So far, though, one group, Jaysh al-Islam, still holds onto one of eastern Ghouta's biggest towns. Their refusal to surrender is causing panic among civilians there who fear even more days of bombardment and siege. Deana Lynn grew up in Michigan but lives in Douma with her husband and eight children.

DEANA LYNN: We're all nervous, very worried, waiting or knowing what will come. If Jaysh al-Islam decides to hold out, it will be very terrible for civilians.

SHERLOCK: She says her family is packing whatever they can carry, some clothes, some old photos, and are waiting to be displaced. Ruth Sherlock, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.