Reports: Russia strikes evacuation deal with eastern Ghouta rebels | News | DW | 01.04.2018
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Reports: Russia strikes evacuation deal with eastern Ghouta rebels

Russia has reportedly brokered a deal for hundreds of civilians and rebels to be evacuated from the last opposition-held area of eastern Ghouta. But an opposition representative has denied reports of an agreement.

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'Hell on Earth': Eastern Ghouta

Syrian ally Russia has struck a deal with rebels in the main town of the eastern Ghouta region to allow hundreds of civilians to leave along with fighters, a group monitoring Syria's conflict said on Sunday.

The town of Douma was the final pocket of resistance to the Damascus regime in the embattled enclave.

State reports

Syrian state news agency SANA reported fighters would go to the rebel-controlled town of Jarabulus in the northern province of Aleppo.

State television and Syrian newspapers reported the group would hand over heavy and mid-sized weapons and acknowledge the restoration of state sovereignty over Douma.

Russian military police would enter the former rebel bastion and government institutions would return, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Sunday. Syrian forces had carried out a six-week long air and ground offensive.

Opposition says it will not leave

Jaish al-Islam, or "Army of Islam," had previously refused to leave the area.While Russian and Syrian sources confirmed a preliminary deal on Sunday, a representative of Jaish al-Islam quoted by the AP news agency said his group did not yet agree to leave the town. However, he said that "humanitarian cases" would be allowed to evacuate on Monday.

Also, SANA reported that fighters alligned with another rebel group, Faylaq al-Rahman, left Douma in buses sent by the Syrian government on Sunday. Around 1,300 fighters, activists, and civilians signed up for evacuation, according to the Observatory.

Fleeing death and destruction

Tens of thousands of civilians have fled eastern Ghouta into regime-held territory since the Syrian army, backed by Russian air power, first put the enclave under massive siege on February 18, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. More than 1,600 have been killed.

A full recapture of the enclave would be a major victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been facing a rebellion against his rule since early 2011.

amp, tj/rc (AFP, Reuters)

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