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Middle East Syrian rebels offer to withdraw al-Qaida in return for end to Eastern Ghouta assault

SYRIAN rebel negotiator Nasr al-Hariri offered today to pull al-Qaida fighters out of Damascus’s Eastern Ghouta suburb if the government agrees to stop shelling the area.

Mr Hariri accused the Syrian army of “war crimes” over a push to regain control of the rebel-held pocket, which has seen air raids and artillery bombardment claim scores of lives.

Opposition groups in the area returned fire, pounding government-held districts with mortar shells.

Mr Hariri said rebels were considering “all the options” in Eastern Ghouta.

But the offer to withdraw members of the al-Qaida-affiliated Levant Liberation Committee is unlikely to tempt the Syrian government as it is not the main jihadist group in the area — this being the Saudi-backed Army of Islam.

The latter group’s leader Mohammed Alloush accused Syria, Russia and Iran of orchestrating a “holocaust” in Eastern Ghouta.

Mr Alloush, who denounced Bashar al-Assad’s government as a “Satanic alliance,” has vowed to “cleanse” Syria of the “filth” of Shi’ite Muslims, although he later told US journalists that he had only said this to boost his soldiers’ morale.

Syrian troops were also deployed to the province of Afrin today, with newsreels showing footage of armoured cars arriving.

Kurdish YPG militia defending the province from the Turkish invasion had appealed to the Syrian government to defend the country’s borders.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has said his army will not hesitate to fight its Syrian counterpart if it tries to help the Kurds but is willing to co-operate if it has arrived to help his forces crush them, appeared undeterred and said the siege of the city of Afrin would begin shortly.

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