The main rebel group in the southern pocket of Syria’s opposition-held eastern Ghouta has said it is negotiating with a United Nations delegation about a ceasefire, aid and the evacuation of urgent medical cases.
“We are engaged in arranging serious negotiations to guarantee the safety and protection of civilians,” said Wael Alwan, the Istanbul-based spokesman for Failaq al-Rahman.
“The most important points under negotiation are a ceasefire, ensuring aid for civilians and the exit of medical cases and injured people needing treatment outside Ghouta.”
However, a general evacuation of civilians and rebels was not on the table, he said.
The news came as Syrian state-run TV carried images of President Bashar Assad visiting troops on the front line in the newly captured areas of eastern Ghouta.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Syrian government was in control of more than 80% of the area, which has been a rebel stronghold since 2012.
In a month-long assault, pro-Syrian government forces have marched into much of eastern Ghouta, the last major insurgent bastion around Damascus.
Troops have splintered Ghouta into three besieged zones in one of the bloodiest offensives of the seven-year war, with rebels facing their worst defeat since the battle of Aleppo in 2016.
A number of patients requiring urgent medical attention have been evacuated from the northern pocket and some aid has entered the area. This has not yet happened in the southern pocket.
Figures close to the two main rebel groups – Failaq al-Rahman in the south and Jaish al-Islam in the north – have told Reuters discussions are under way for the transfer of Failaq al-Rahman and Jaish al-Islam fighters to opposition-held areas in northern and southern Syria respectively.
After a morning of calm, shelling and ground battles resumed across eastern Ghouta on Sunday afternoon, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (OCHA) said on Thursday at least 20,000 people had left eastern Ghouta in the past week, most from the southern pocket through the Hammouriyeh area.
The Observatory said about 50,000 people had left the southern pocket in the past 72 hours and thousands left on Sunday.
On Sunday, President Bashar al-Assad visited army positions in Syria’s eastern Ghouta, Syrian state media reported. “In the line of fire in eastern Ghouta … President Assad with heroes of the Syrian Arab army,” read a caption next to photographs of Assad in a crowd of men in military uniforms, some perched on top of tanks.