Syrian insurgents ready to quit last rebel town in Ghouta

28 March, 2018, 01:13 | Author: Patty Aguilar
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Almost 6,800 members of the Faylaq al-Rahman militant group and their family members left the Arbil settlement in Syria's Eastern Ghouta on Monday, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

Efforts are ongoing to facilitate the evacuation of more rebels, who will leave Eastern Ghouta through a crossing in the town of Arbeen and reach the government-controlled area on the outskirts of Arbeen before going to Idlib.

Syrian government forces and allied militia have recaptured about 80 percent of the former rebel bastion since they launched a brutal offensive last month that has left hundreds of people dead and rendered many more homeless.

Eastern Ghouta lies within mortar range of Damascus, and rebels there had threatened to seize the capital from President Bashar al-Assad.

Douma-based activist Laith al-Abdullah told Al Jazeera that Faylaq ar-Rahman are trying to evacuate their extended family members now trapped in Douma - despite ongoing negotiations.

In the previous two batches, on last Saturday and Sunday respectively, a total of 6,416 people, including rebels and their families, evacuated the same areas and moved to the rebel-held areas in the northwestern province of Idlib.

Assad has used such evacuation agreements to recover swathes of territory since the uprising against his rule began seven years ago this month.

The regime responded with a crippling half-decade siege on the suburb's 400,000 residents, sealing off access to food, medicine and other goods.


However, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there are divisions within the rebel group over the negotiations, with some hard-liners refusing any talks with Russians.

"The Russians don't want an agreement for Douma that's different from other parts of Ghouta, but Jaish al-Islam wants to stay and doesn't want any residents to leave", the source said.

Eastern Ghouta has been under rebel control since mid-2013.

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.

Some 200,000 people are estimated to remain in Douma, including many who fled other parts of Ghouta as regime forces advanced.

Syria's pro-government Al-Watan daily reported similar terms and said the parties had three days to study the offer.

Russian military police, but not Syria's army, would deploy there.

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".

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