Biggest convoy yet leaves rebel pocket of Syria's Ghouta

Lena Tucker
March 28, 2018

Syria and its ally Russian Federation have threatened to resume bombing the final opposition holdout of Douma in Eastern Ghouta unless rebels there agree to evacuate, sources told AFP on Tuesday.

The aforementioned areas have been under the control of the Failaq al-Rahman rebel group, which agreed last Friday to negotiate over its evacuation from Eastern Ghouta.

Tens of thousands of civilians and fighters left battered Eastern Ghouta, where some streets have been bombed to the ground, after all but one of its main rebel groups reached agreements with Russian Federation to withdraw, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Five weeks since the Syrian regime launched an all-out assault on Ghouta, it holds more than 90 percent of the onetime opposition stronghold on the edge of Damascus.

This comes amid ongoing evacuation of rebels and their families from key areas in central Ghouta.

A Syrian boy lifts a cart in a street past destoyed buildings on March 25, 2018, in Douma, in Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of the capital Damascus.

The largest numbers have quit the towns of Arbin and Zamalka, and the adjacent district of Jobar, all controlled by the Faylaq Al-Rahman faction. It put the total figure of civilians and rebels evacuated from the area since the Russia-sponsored "humanitarian pauses" were announced at 114,000 people.

President Bashar al-Assad has used such agreements to recover swathes of territory since the uprising against him began seven years ago this month.

"The negotiations are to remain, not to leave", Army of Islam spokesman Hamza Bayraqdar told the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV from inside Douma.

A third set of talks over the final pocket - controlled by Jaish al-Islam and including the largest town in the area, Douma - may not end in evacuation.

More than 1,600 civilians have been killed in the government offensive, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Under the second deal, opposition fighters from Faylaq al-Rahman are being given safe passage to the northwest, along with thousands of civilians, in exchange for releasing prisoners they were holding.

The Russian Defense Ministry's Center for Reconciliation in Syria said in a statement that more than 400 people left Douma early Monday.

It said a "preliminary understanding" had been reached that would see the "dissolution of Jaish al-Islam, the handover of its heavy weapons and the return of state institutions to the city".

Al-Watan, a newspaper close to the Syrian government, reported Tuesday that military forces were already amassing around Douma.

Other reports by AllAboutTopnews

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