The last rebels in the Eastern Ghouta region of Syria are trying to negotiate a deal, as most of their allies have already fled the region.
A win in Ghouta would be the largest for the regime of Syrian President Bashir al-Assad since it retook Aleppo in December 2016, according to Reuters. Russia has been helping to negotiate the surrender and retreat of the rebels from Ghouta.
The Eastern Ghouta region, which bordered Damascus, was a strategic stronghold for rebels fighting against the Assad regime. Now the last rebel-held portion of Ghouta is the city of Douma. Douma has been under increasing attack in the past week, as Syrian forces attempt to take control of the entire region.
The rebel groups inside Ghouta have been pointing fingers at each other for the failed defense, while the Assad regime has been quick to play up this division. A Syrian government official declared that “conflict between the terrorist groups” helped the Syrian military “achieve what it has achieved in a short space of time.”
The rebel groups in Syria, which are each backed by different foreign sponsors, have never been unified. The Jaish al-Islam group is sponsored by Saudi Arabia, while the Failaq al-Rahman group is backed by Qatar. Meanwhile, other rebels are former al Qaeda fighters.
Ghouta is also the site of a sarin gas attack in 2013, which reportedly killed 1,400. In early March, the town of Hamouriyeh in Ghouta was the target of another reported toxic gas attack.
Ghouta has been bombarded by attacks by the Assad government with civilians trapped inside. Civilians have taken the brunt of the casualties in the Syrian civil war, which started more than seven years ago. Out of around 511,000 people who have been killed in the war, 85 percent have been civilians who died at the hands of the Syrian regime. More than 5.4 million people have fled the country, and an additional 6.5 million have been forced to leave their homes and flee to other parts of Syria.
Both Syria and Moscow deny the attacks against civilians, and say that their attacks against rebels, who they view as Islamic militants, is necessary.
The war is not over yet, though. Rebels still hold positions in the northwest and southwest of the country, including territory near the Syrian border with Jordan and Israel.