Fresh evacuations empty rebels, civilians from Syria’s eastern Ghouta | News | DW | 25.03.2018
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Fresh evacuations empty rebels, civilians from Syria’s eastern Ghouta

The Syrian army is close to regaining full control of eastern Ghouta. Talks are underway to reach a full settlement that could see Russian troops deployed inside the town of Douma.

Hundreds of Syrian rebels and civilians were evacuated on Sunday from Douma in the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta following years of conflict and weeks of relentless bombardment by government forces.

The evacuees arrived in northwestern Idlib province aboard a convoy of buses and ambulances, according to the official Syrian news agency, SANA.

Read more: Eastern Ghouta exodus continues

Douma is the region's largest town and was the last remaining pocket held by opposition factions after the Syrian government regained control of the nearby city of Harasta on Thursday and the towns of Zamalka, Arbin and Jobar on Saturday. The evacuations are part of agreements reached between the Syrian army, its ally Russia, and Islamist rebel groups — such as Faylaq al-Raham, Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam — that have been active in the area. A further 7,000 rebels and civilians were expected to be removed under the deals.

Man hugging child through a bus window (Reuters/B. Khabieh)

Many civilians reacted with great emotion as they left their homes

Talks were meanwhile still underway between the Jaish al-Islam group, which controlled Douma, and Russia to reach a final agreement on the town's future, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. A full settlement could see Russian troops deployed inside the town. 

'Forced displacements'

The evacuations have allowed the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to strengthen their grip on eastern Ghouta. The full recapture of the enclave would mark Assad's biggest victory since December 2016, when his army regained complete control of the northern city of Aleppo from opposition fighters after a Russia-backed offensive.

More than 106,000 people have left eastern Ghouta since humanitarian pauses came into effect, according to Major General Yuri Yevtushenko, chief of the Russian Reconciliation Center, cited by the Russian TASS news agency.

"Through the humanitarian corridor near the populated locality of Al-Wafideen, 1,717 people have left in the past 24 hours," Yevtushenko said. "Since February 28, a total of 23,398 people have left the town of Douma along that corridor."

Read more: Which rebel groups are fighting in Syria's eastern Ghouta?

The United Nations has estimated the population of eastern Ghouta at 400,000. Syrian state television said most of them had exited through "humanitarian corridors" opened by Syrian troops, as part of the Russian-led agreements. Some opposition groups have condemned the evacuation deals in war-torn Syria as forced displacement.

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kw/tj  (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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