Syria: Second evacuation deal reached in Eastern Ghouta

25 March, 2018, 00:58 | Author: Diane Mills
  • Rebels stand together as they wait to be evacuated outisde Harasta in eastern Ghouta in Damascus Syria

"Other civilians are leaving as well, people who were involved in opposition activities like media activists, medics, civil defense volunteers", said Al Jazeera correspondent Zeina Khodr, explaining that they are often considered terrorists by state authorities and as such are at risk.

The Syrian Army, reportedly gained control of 90 per cent of the territory in Eastern Ghouta, considered the main opposition stronghold near Damascus, in a month-long government offensive to take the area.

In the rebel pocket in the southern part of eastern Ghouta, Failaq al-Rahman had announced its intention to negotiate on Thursday, when Alwan said a ceasefire had been agreed.

The deal provides for "the transfer of almost 7,000 people, fighters and their families" from an area in the south of the enclave held by rebel group Faylaq al Rahman, regime television said.

Insurgents in one of those pockets - the town of Harasta - began withdrawing in a convoy of buses for opposition territory in northwestern Syria on Thursday.

The Faylaq al Rahman group, which agreed to a ceasefire on Thursday following another wave of deadly air strikes, did not immediately confirm the agreement.

More than 1,600 civilians have died in Eastern Ghouta since the regime launched a blistering assault on the last rebel bastion near Damascus on February 18.

The state media say more than 6,000 left the day before.

Waiting at the edge of Ghouta, Sabah al-Salloum desperately hoped her son Munzer - kidnapped four years ago by Ghouta rebels - would be among them.

"Our situation in Harasta was very tragic", said Abu Mohammed, a civilian who arrived at a camp for the evacuees in the town of Maarat al Ikhwan.

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The spokesman of the dominant Failaq al-Rahman rebel group there, Wael Alwan, had earlier said it was negotiating with the government's ally Russian Federation.

It also broadcast live footage of eight Syrian men, who said they had been detained by Faylaq al-Rahman for over a year and were released under the settlement.

The United Nations estimates more than 50,000 people have left besieged areas of eastern Ghouta in the past nearly two weeks.

Assad and his allies say their offensive in eastern Ghouta is necessary to end the rule of Islamist militants over the area's people, and to stop them shelling government areas.

In the rebel-held northwestern city of Idlib, a auto bomb exploded near a court building killing at least six people and wounding 25, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the opposition's Syrian Civil Defense.

More than 4,500 people, including over 1,400 fighters, left for Idlib, state television reported.

"We unfortunately have a steady stream of reports coming out of Eastern Ghouta: of attacks of bombardments, all kinds of illegal weapons being used." said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), during a news conference in Geneva.

With the conflict grinding on into its eighth year, Syria's government is more determined than ever to clear opposition holdouts around the capital.

Just hours later, rocket fire hit a sports club in Damascus, killing one child and wounding seven, state news agency SANA reported.

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