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Syrian opposition agree to evacuate town in Ghouta

March 21, 2018 at 3:50 pm

Smoke rises after the Assad Regime carried out air strikes in eastern Ghouta, Syria on 5 March 2018 [Mouneb Taim/Anadolu Agency]

Syrian opposition groups will evacuate a besieged town in eastern Ghouta, sources, officials and a military media unit run by the government’s ally Hezbollah said today, the first such deal in the last opposition-held area near the capital.

Fighters from Ahrar Al-Sham, which holds Harasta, agreed to lay down arms in return for safe passage to opposition-held northwestern Syria and a government pardon for people who wished to stay, the opposition sources said.

Some 1,500 militants and 6,000 of their family members will be transported to opposition-held Idlib in two batches starting tomorrow, the Hezbollah military media unit said.

Russia’s Defence Ministry, which the opposition sources said had brokered the deal, said today it had opened a new “humanitarian corridor” near Harasta but did not indicate whether this would be part of any opposition pull-out deal.

Read: Rocket attack kills at least 29 in Damascus market -Syrian state media

The Syrian army has recaptured 70 per cent of the territory that was under insurgent control in eastern Ghouta, and after weeks of bombardment residents are fleeing by the thousands.

Beside Harasta, the opposition still hold two other pockets in the enclave outside Damascus – the major town of Douma and an area to the south that includes the towns of Jobar, Ein Terma and Arbin.

The army assault, backed by Russian fighter jets, began last month. It has killed more than 1,500 people as air strikes pound residential areas where thousands had sheltered in basements across the densely populated enclave, according to a monitor.

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is determined to end what he calls a terrorist threat near his seat of power. The government accuses opposition fighters of bombarding the capital’s suburbs as revenge for the assault on Ghouta, though the insurgents deny targeting civilians.

Defeat in eastern Ghouta would mark the worst setback for the anti-Assad rebellion since the opposition was driven from eastern Aleppo in late 2016 after a similar campaign of siege, bombing, ground assault and the promise of safe passage out.

Read: Human Rights Watch calls on UN to deploy observers in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta