Russia says Syrian forces have taken full control of Eastern Ghouta, as one of the most intensive military operations in the country's seven-year war nears an end.
State-run news agencies in Russia on Thursday reported Syrian forces had raised the national flag in Douma, which was the last rebel-held city in Eastern Ghouta, a strategic enclave on the fringe of the Syrian capital, Damascus.
If confirmed, it would be a significant victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, which has made sweeping territorial gains in the past two years from rebel groups, with Russian military power helping him turn the tide of the conflict in his favor.
But it also comes as Assad's government faces threats of military action from the United States and potentially its allies, following a suspected chemical gas attack over the weekend that President Donald Trump has openly pinned on Assad through a series of Twitter posts.
The head of the Russian Center for Syrian Reconciliation, which represents the country's military mission in Syria, called the seizure of Douma "a landmark event" in Syria's history.
"The state flag flown over a building... in the city of Douma marked the regained control over this settlement, and consequently over entire Eastern Ghouta," Maj. Gen. Yury Yevtushenko said, according to Russia's Sputnik news agency.
Syria has not publicly declared control of Eastern Ghouta, though state media reported earlier that the main rebel group in Douma, Jaish al-Islam, agreed on Sunday to evacuate the city.
Jaish al-Islam members have not responded to CNN for comment, and has stopped posting statements on its online accounts in recent days. But its fighters and their families have been seen leaving Douma on buses and have been photographed arriving at refugee camps in northern Syria.
Eastern Ghouta was once home to around 400,000 people, but in the past four weeks alone more than 133,000 have fled and tens of thousands more had been trapped inside Douma, UN refugee agency spokesman Andrej Mahecic said Tuesday.
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