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Syrian rebels say will defend Ghouta, won't negotiate withdrawal Open in fullscreen

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Syrian rebels say will defend Ghouta, won't negotiate withdrawal

Rebel fighters camp out after regime forces capture area in Ghouta [Getty]

Date of publication: 7 March, 2018

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A rebel military commander rejected a Russian proposal that fighters leave in exchange for immunity.

Syrian rebels in Eastern Ghouta said on Wednesday that they will not negotiate with Russia over its withdrawal proposal, Reuters reported.

“There are no negotiations about this subject. The factions of Ghouta and their fighters and its people are holding onto their land and will defend it,” said Hamza Birqdar, a rebel military spokesman.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had previously offered to guarantee safe passage out of Eastern Ghouta for rebel fighters.

Syrian regime forces launched an assault on Eastern Ghouta, the last major rebel-held area close to Damascus, on 18 February. More than 800 have been killed in clashes since.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that regime reinforcements were sent to Eastern Ghouta on Wednesday. Seven-hundred fighters with pro-Assad militias also arrived in Eastern Ghouta the same day. 

Regime forces have seized 45 per cent of the Eastern Ghouta enclave in recent days.

Most Ghouta residents expect the area to follow the same trajectory as East Aleppo – which, in 2016, fell under regime forces following an air campaign and subsequent ground offensive.

Russia's Ministry of Defence has said that some rebel groups indicated they were prepared to accept the withdrawal plan, according to Russian news agencies.

Moscow has said fighters would be allowed to leave with their personal weapons and families.

The United Nations Security Council will hold urgent talks on Wednesday on the failure of a 30-day ceasefire to take hold. Russia had previously agreed to the joint Swedish-Kuwaiti UN resolution calling for an end to hostilities.

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