Thousands Flee Rebel Area East of Damascus

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A handout picture released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on January 17, 2015 reportedly shows Syrian citizens being helped by government forces to evacuate after they fled the besieged rebel town of Douma, 13 kilometers (eight miles) northeast of Damascus. AFP/SANA

Published Monday, January 19, 2015

Syrian forces have evacuated nearly 4,000 people from a rebel bastion close to Damascus, Syrian state news agency SANA and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, reported on Sunday.

"Army units evacuated more than 2,100 people from Eastern Ghouta" on Sunday alone, SANA reported, running photos showing cold and underfed women, children and elderly people.

It said residents of Douma, in Eastern Ghouta, had "fled the crimes of terrorist organizations who use residents as human shields."

The pro-opposition Observatory also reported the mass evacuation from Eastern Ghouta.

According to the monitoring group, the government’s amnesty granted to former rebels had facilitated negotiations to evacuate civilians from the area, which has suffered food and medical shortages.

The evacuees were taken to shelters in the Qudsaya area, northwest of Damascus, SANA added.

The agency said 2,112 people had been evacuated on Sunday, and 1,687 people left the area on Saturday.

A military source said those leaving the area "fled to the army because of all kinds of blackmail and persecution they are being subjected to by terrorists."

Eastern Ghouta is a key rebel bastion on the outskirts of the capital Damascus. The army has sought to capture rebel rear bases around the capital, which is frequently the target of rebel rockets fired from the city's outskirts.

In August 2013, a chemical attack took place in the Ghouta neighborhood, which killed an estimated 1,400 people and sparked an international political crisis at the time as the United States threatened to intervene in the Syrian conflict with airstrikes.

Subsequent discussions led to the Syrian government relinquishing its chemical weapons to the international community for destruction, even as it vehemently denied that it was behind the use of sarin in eastern Ghouta.

Fundraising for UN humanitarian operations

Meanwhile, Kuwait will host a third donors conference to raise funds for UN humanitarian operations in war-torn Syria, the Kuwaiti foreign minister said on Sunday.

Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Sabah told reporters that Kuwait would host the meeting at the request of UN chief Ban Ki-moon. There was no additional information provided on the date of conference.

The Gulf state had previously hosted such conferences in the past two years which saw pledges of around $4 billion in aid, including $800 million from Kuwait.

But UN humanitarian agencies have complained that many donors have not followed through on pledges, forcing them to cut assistance to millions of Syrians.

A team made up of representatives of the biggest 15 donor states will meet by the end of January to review compliance on pledges, Sheikh Sabah said.

(AFP, Anadolu, Al-Akhbar)

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