Last rebel group starts leaving Syria's Eastern Ghouta: state media

03 April 2018, 02:44 | Isaac Mcdaniel

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Syrian government forces' infantry fighting vehicles and trucks drive past damaged buildings down a street in the Eastern Ghouta town of Hazzeh on the outskirts of Damascus

The deal brokered by Russian Federation will have Jaysh al-Islam fighters leaving Douma for northern Syria.

Successive evacuation deals for other parts of Ghouta have seen more than 46,000 fighters and civilians bussed out in recent weeks, according to a tally of figures provided by SANA.

The Observatory said that more than 1,600 people were killed as intense artillery, shelling and airstrikes made way for a ground offensive that saw Ghouta split into three separate pockets of rebel control. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the civil war through a network of activists on the ground, also reported the evacuation.

A final deal appeared to have been reached on Sunday for fighters and civilians to leave the last opposition-held area of Eastern Ghouta, paving the way for Syria's regime to retake all of the one-time rebel enclave near Damascus.

The sources confirmed that the deal was instead similar to the one reached in Qaboun and Barza, which stipulated the evacuation of fighters opposed to a deal reached with the Syrian regime, and their families to the north of Syria. The most powerful Syrian rebel faction on the fringes of Damascus began abandoning its stronghold in the once rebel-held enclave of eastern Ghouta on Monday, opening the way for government forces to secure full control of the area, after seven years of revolt.

"A group of buses carrying a number of Jaish al-Islam terrorists and their families leave Douma in preparation of them being transported to Jarablus", Syria's state news agency SANA reported. Backed by Russia, Mr Assad's forces have scored a series of victories over rebel forces in recent years, often through campaigns of siege, aerial bombardment as well as ground offensives that have drawn widespread global condemnation.

Meanwhile, more than a thousand Faylaq al-Rahman (al-Rahman Legion) militants have withdrawn from Douma via a humanitarian corridor at Wafideen Camp toward militant-held areas in the northwestern province of Idlib.

Opposition sources say Jaish al Islam officials have been desperately trying to strike a deal that would bring Russian military police into Douma, and let the group keep a role in maintaining internal security but under the state's overall jurisdiction.

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Also on Sunday, Hezbollah media said that an agreement had been reached with the rebel group to evacuate fighters to Jarablus, a town in northern Syria near the border with Turkey.

Pope Francis called yesterday for an end to "carnage" in Syria and "reconciliation" in the Middle East in his Easter message.

The withdrawal, the first of its kind from besieged Douma, involves fighters of Failaq al-Rahman, which evacuated most of the towns under its control inside the enclave last Saturday.

The government's key ally Russian Federation announced on Sunday that Jaysh al-Islam had agreed to an evacuation.

"Of course I would rather leave".

"But I won't go to regime-held areas to join ranks with the Syrian army", he said, adding he would prefer to go to Idlib.

Pro-regime newspaper Al Watan said in an editorial on Monday it was a matter of hours until Douma was declared a "town empty of terrorism".



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