On March 3, Major General Vladimir Zolotukhin, a representative of the Russian center for reconciliation of opposing sides in Syria, said that a report of the Syrian intelligence had revealed that the former branch of al-Qaeda in Syria, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), is plotting a provocation in East Ghouta. The group is preapring to attack a UN relief convoy, which is scheduled to enter the Duma district in the northern part of the East Ghouta pocket on March 4.
“Jihadists are planning to open mortar fire on the convoy and pin the blame on government forces. We demand the leaders of illegal armed groups halt provocations, abide by the cessation of hostilities and immediately provide unimpeded evacuations for civilians from the area of fighting,” Maj. Gen. Zolotukhin said according to the Russian news agency TASS.
Maj. Gen. Zolotukhin also revealed that the militants in the East Ghouta pocket had targeted several checkpoints of the Russian reconciliation center on the safe route northeast of the Duma district with sniper rifles during the daily humanitarian pause. Three civilians were reportedly injured in the attacks.
“Today, the area near the checkpoint came under sniper fire throughout the day. Besides, from 9.35 a.m. until 11.10 a.m. fire from small arms was opened four times on the humanitarian corridor, three local civilians received wounds,” said Maj. Gen. Zolotukhin.
On February 27, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a daily humanitarian pause in the Eastern Ghouta pocket from 09:00 to 14:00 local time to allow the civilians to leave the besieged areas safely.
However, only a very low number of people has been able to leave the East Ghouta pocket so far, because the militants are forcing people to stay in the pocket as “a human shield”, according to the Russian reconciliation center.