TUNIS - Thousands of heavily armed rebels in Eastern Ghouta prepared for what looks to be an inevitable assault by Syrian regime troops massing on the suburb’s borders.
Lodged in a network of caves that lace through the suburb 15km east of Damascus, an array of rebel groups are bracing for an attack on their positions despite the UN ceasefire declared on February 24.
A parallel peace measure, imposed by the regime’s principal ally, Russia, to establish a daily 5-hour "humanitarian pause" in the fighting appeared to be holding into its second day. However, Eastern Ghouta’s civilian population of 400,000 has not used the cessation of hostilities to leave.
Within Eastern Ghouta, rebel groups such as Jaysh al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman jostle with al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s approximately 300 fighters among the estimated 20,000 rebel combatants that have been cited by Russia and the regime as justification for the continued battering.
Wary of regime intentions, the commanders of all three of Eastern Ghouta’s main rebel groups wrote to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on February 26, claiming they were attempting to expel the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham fighters and their families within 15 days. They accused the government of deliberately hampering efforts to do so.
Read the full article in The Arab Weekly.