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Fate of thousands in question after terrorists leave Douma

A fighter from the Jaish al-Islam Takfiri terror group prepares a sniper rifle in the militant-held area of Harasta, on the northeastern outskirts of Syria’s capital Damascus, February 21, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Jaish al-Islam reportedly hyped the number of hostages it was holding in Douma near Damascus, raising questions as to the fate of thousands who disappeared during the Takfiri terrorist group’s reign over the suburbs.

The Middle East Eye (MEE) news portal cited one of the group’s spokesmen as saying that it was only holding hundreds of hostages as opposed to thousands it had claimed was keeping before reaching a deal with the Syrian government and Russia to secure the safe passage of its members.

"The exact numbers were around 500 only and they were handed to the regime before we left," said Ammar Hassan.

“When only 200 hostages were released in exchange for the safe passage of 8,000 fighters and 40,000 of their family members, many questioned what Jaish al-Islam had done with thousands of Syrians,” the MEE said, adding, “Some suggested Jaish al-Islam had killed the remaining people.”

Buses carrying Jaish al-Islam terrorists and their families from their former terrorist stronghold of Douma in the Syrian capital Damascus’ countryside, arrive at the Abu al-Zindeen checkpoint near the northern Syrian town of al-Bab, April 12, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

The exaggeration helped the outfit “gain leverage in negotiations with the Syrian government and Russia,” it quoted Hassan as saying.

Damascus and Moscow reached the agreements enabling the terrorists to leave Douma before retaking the town. The town was the terrorists’ last stronghold in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, from which they had been launching deadly rocket attacks against the capital for years.

Elizabeth Tsurkov, a research fellow at the Jerusalem al-Quds-based Forum for Regional Thinking told MEE, “It is clear that many families expected their sons to be released.”

The US, France and Britain marked the eviction of terrorists from Douma with an airstrike on Syria, citing an alleged chemical attack which White Helmet operators claimed had killed over 40 people. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Saturday Moscow had "irrefutable" evidence that the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria was staged with the help of a foreign secret service.

"We have irrefutable evidence that this was another staged event, and that the secret services of a certain state that is now at the forefront of a Russophobic campaign was involved in this staged event," he said during a press conference.

The Russian military said that the alleged chemical attack was staged and directed by Britain.  

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Britain had told the White Helmets, who act as first responders in terrorist-held areas, to fake the suspected chemical attack in the town of Douma.

The tripartite attack took place right before the Syrian Army was about to enter the town to carry out mop-up operations.

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