Middle East

Syrian minister says some Ghouta rebels may accept deals soon

Some rebels in eastern Ghouta may soon agree to withdraw from the opposition enclave or accept rule by the Syrian state after big advances by the army into the area, a Syrian government minister said on Monday.

Syrian government forces have splintered eastern Ghouta into three separate zones in a month-long assault to crush the last major opposition stronghold near Damascus, confronting the rebels with their biggest defeat since 2016.

Damascus and its Russian allies are offering rebels in eastern Ghouta similar terms to those offered in other parts of the country that have been recaptured: safe passage out for those who agree to surrender territory, or a reconciliation agreement for those who wish to stay under government rule.

Ali Haidar, the Syrian minister responsible for such agreements, told Reuters in an interview that rebels in an enclave centered around the town of Harasta – one of three rebel pockets in eastern Ghouta – may be ready for such a deal.

Haidar said there were contacts with Ghouta rebels and “to a certain extent there are acceptable results in part of the file”.

“There may be an accomplishment in Harasta in the coming period. I don’t commit to specific timeframes because the matter is linked to the militants accepting departure or settling their situation (with the authorities) and the army entering the area,” Haidar said.

He said “what remains of Ghouta is, I believe, open to discussion … to accomplish reconciliations at a certain level”.

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