Syrian rebels begin evacuating last stronghold near Damascus

03 April, 2018, 04:45 | Author: Diane Mills
  • Texas native killed by blast in Syria

The last Syrian rebel group in eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, has begun withdrawing under an agreement with the government, state media report.

The Syrian government dispatched more than 50 buses to Douma to take the rebels out, SANA reported.

There was no immediate confirmation from the rebels, but pro-regime newspaper Al-Watan quoted "diplomatic sources" as saying the agreement would see fighters give up heavy weapons and leave Douma for northern Syria.

Jaish al Islam, most of whose members are drawn from the area, has been defending the city of Douma against a months-long onslaught by government forces. The government responded to the protests by putting Douma and other suburbs around Damascus under siege, bombing hospitals and residential areas, and blocking the entry of food and medical relief.

The most recent Syrian air and ground offensive on eastern Ghouta, supported Russia's military, killed at least 1,600 people, according to the Observatory.

The retaking of eastern Ghouta would mark a major milestone in regime leader Bashar al Assad's efforts to regain control of territory seized by rebel factions during Syria's seven-year civil war.

The comments came on the same day the Syrian army had declared "victory" against rebel groups in Eastern Ghouta.

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"They will all have to agree to the settlement in the end", the source said.

The Russian military, which is allied with Assad's forces, said 1,146 rebels and their relatives have left Douma for the northern province of Idlib over the past 24 hours. Maj.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition watchdog based in Britain, said the fighters' departure would be followed by the entry of Russian Federation military police, who would guarantee the safety of residents who want to remain in Douma.

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 United States is working every day on the ground and with the worldwide community to help stabilize those areas liberated from ISIS and identify ways to move forward with reconstruction once there has been a peaceful political transition away from (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad", the statement said. More than 120,000 people fled their homes under the five-week assault, seeking safety behind government lines, according to the Russian military. Ankara says the town is controlled by Syrian Kurdish militiamen that Turkish officials claim are "terrorists" and an extension of Kurdish insurgents inside Turkey.

Local activists have said that over 100,000 civilians are trapped inside Douma, which has suffered devastating damage.

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