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Opposition groups begin evacuation of eastern Ghouta

March 23, 2018 at 9:42 am

Syrian try to warm themselves with a heating stove in a shelter in Eastern Ghouta of Damascus, Syria on 27 February 2018 [Anas Aldamashqi/Anadolu Agency]

Syrian opposition fighters and their families yesterday began to leave the eastern Ghouta town of Harasta, amid heightened security measures by regime forces.

The evacuation came as part of an UN-brokered agreement between opposition parties and the Syrian regime’s closest ally Russia. Those who left Ghouta were transferred to Idlib in northern Syria.

Local sources told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that some ten buses had driven into Harasta to transfer the town residents to the northern area.

Exiled Syrians included rebels from the Ahrar Al-Sham faction, which was dominant in Harasta over the last few years.

The sources pointed out that “some other buses were waiting outside Harasta, but have not yet entered the city,” explaining that “the agreement stipulates that the evacuation should include the deportation of 1,500 Ahrar Al-Sham fighters.”

Read: Around 6,500 civilians return to Syria’s Ghouta, Russian military says

The agreement also included a prisoners’ swap between Ahrar Al-Sham and the Syrian army, sources added.

The United Nations says 400,000 people are trapped in the towns and villages of eastern Ghouta. They have been under government siege for years and were already running out of food and medicine before the assault. Many civilians have fled from the frontlines into Douma, a town in the enclave.

Opposition groups said they were deploying more guerrilla-style ambushes in territory they had lost, trying to stop advances by the army and their allies which rebels accuse of using “scorched earth” tactics.

The Syrian government has also been working in tandem with Daesh militants to advance into Idlib, opening a corridor last month to allow so-called Daesh fighters to move into the province and take control of a number of villages. However, opposition groups announced their success over Daesh a week later, after some 250 militants surrendered following intense clashes.

Read: Assad takes photos with Syrian troops in Ghouta as death toll tops 1,400