Thursday, 16 August, 2018

Last rebel group starts leaving Ghouta

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Cary Erickson | 05 April, 2018, 01:54

It was not immediate possible to confirm the details of the deal and there was no comment from the Army of Islam.

Syrian state TV said eight buses carrying 448 people - fighters and their families - had left Douma so far on Monday, en route for the north.

Humanitarian cases would be allowed to leave on Monday, according to Abdelaziz.

Before the last wave of violence began in eastern Ghouta last month, the United Nations had estimated that some 393,000 people were living in the area under a tight government siege.

The towns are located in a section of the Turkish-Syrian frontier where Turkey has carved out a buffer zone controlled on the ground by its military and allied fighters from Free Syrian Army rebel groups that are hostile to Assad.

An opposition official told the Saudi TV channel al-Arabiya that the Army of Islam was still engaged in talks with Russian Federation over the future of Douma.

An agreement was reached with the Jaish al Islam rebel faction to leave Douma, a town of at least 100,000 people roughly 6 miles northeast of downtown Damascus and the last area in Ghouta still in rebel hands, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported Sunday.

The U.S. has more than 2,000 military personnel in Syria, 60 of whom have been killed since the campaign to destroy IS began in 2014.

Four major rebel groups were now positioned inside Eastern Ghouta, namely the Islam Army, Failaq al-Rahman, Ahrar al-Sham, and the Levant Liberation Committee, known as the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.

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Hamza Berakdar, spokesperson for Jaish al-Islam, said on Saturday that the armed opposition in Douma refused to leave in what he called a forced displacement.

The Russian military police will enter that district to "assure" the civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The BBC's Martin Patience in Beirut says it is not clear whether Jaysh al-Islam's fighters want to give up their weapons, and possibly become a security force under government control, or be bussed to a rebel stronghold in northern Syria.

On Sunday, the Syrian government-linked Central Military Media outlet said that once the evacuations are completed, a local council for Douma would be formed with the approval of the central government.

The once bustling commercial hub on the outskirts of the capital was the main center of street protests in the Damascus suburbs against Assad's one party rule that ignited the conflict more than seven years ago. Meanwhile, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad continues to wage a civil war on his own people - backed by the Russian government.

The Syrian Army has announced that it has lifted the militant blockade of a major highway connecting Damascus to the rest of the country.

The fighters in Douma were following their Faylaq al-Rahman comrades trapped in the other two Ghouta pockets that relocated to northern Syria last week.

In the spring of 2015, it held a massive military parade that included thousands of opposition fighters marching in formation and a striking display of tanks and armored vehicles at the doors of the Syrian capital.