Residents from Qaboun recount their escape from rebel infighting

The latest development in Damascus City has seen the mass evacuation of rebel fighters and their families from the Qaboun District to rebel controlled Idlib following the capture of Qaboun by the Syrian Government.

The fighting between rebels and the government took an unexpected turn as Faylaq al-Rahman launched an attack on Jaish al-Islam fighters three weeks ago, resulting in intense fighting across the nearby rebel-held suburb of east Ghouta. Syrian Arab Army (SAA) took opportunity of the infighting, making rapid gains in Qaboun, representing the loss of the rebellion’s last bastion in Damascus City.

The capture of Qaboun by the SAA represents a strategic advantage for government forces as it was the only rebel held rebel-held district left in the city. A victory there has closed the main smuggling route to Ghouta, effectively shutting off its lifeline.

As one civilian says, “Qaboun was demolished by Faylaq al-Rahman and Jaish al-Islam. I swear when they handed over Qaboun they were not given any assistance. They [government forces] were killing using heavy weaponry. Qaboun was handed over to them and destroyed while they killed them”.

Many rebel fighters and their families have now been relocated to rebel held Idlib displaced and angry. As one rebel fighter says, “we are rebels and we left Qaboun forcibly because Faylaq al-Rahman and Lewa Islam (Jaish al-Islam) expelled us. They kicked us out because they have sold us out”. Many of these rebels here suspect they have been sold out by the two larger rebel groups who are vying over influence in east Ghouta.

The loss of Qaboun as a result of rebel infighting highlights the factionalism that has virtually crippled the rebel groups in Syria, allowing them to be eclipsed by the Islamic State, the Syrian Democratic Forces and a resurgent SAA as the main powers in the country. With the infighting continuing unabated even as the SAA continues to make gains, the future looks bleak for the rebel factions.