Civilians leave last opposition pocket in E Ghouta, monitor says

CAIRO, Ramadan Al-Fatash (dpa)– Hundreds of civilians on Sunday left the town of Douma, the last opposition pocket in Eastern Ghouta near the Syrian capital Damascus, where government forces have gained significant ground, a monitoring group reported.
The evacuees departed Douma amid a calm in the fighting to government-controlled areas, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The evacuation is the latest in a mass exodus from Eastern Ghouta, the former opposition stronghold that has been besieged by government forces for more than four years.
Douma is the last pocket still under rebel control in the enclave after government forces recently regained most of the region due to a relentless offensive and evacuation agreements with the opposition factions there.
Controlled by the Jaish al-Islam rebel faction, Douma has borne the brunt of the government campaign that started against Eastern Ghouta more than a month ago.
Negotiations were meanwhile under way between Jaish al-Islam and the Russians to reach a final agreement on the future of Douma, the Britain-based Observatory reported.
Under the deal, Russian military police are to set up checkpoints inside Douma and government offices are to resume operating in the town, the watchdog said.
The rebel faction will also release thousands of prisoners it is holding in return for the evacuation of the sick from the besieged town to get medical treatment.
Russia is a major ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
This week, thousands of rebel fighters and their families left Eastern Ghouta for opposition-controlled areas in northern Syria under evacuation deals with the government.
Buses on Sunday reached Eastern Ghouta’s town of Arbeen to transport a total of 898 people including insurgents and their families to the province of Idlib in north-western Syria, the official Syrian news agency SANA reported.
On Saturday, a group of 981 rebel fighters and civilians departed from Arbeen under a Russian-brokered evacuation accord between the rebel faction Faylaq al-Sham, which controlled the area, and the government, according to SANA.
The evacuations have allowed al-Assad’s forces to strengthen their grip on Eastern Ghouta.
The full recapture of the enclave will mark the biggest victory for al-Assad since December 2016, when his forces regained complete control of the northern city of Aleppo from the opposition following a Russian-backed offensive.
Idlib is one of the last remaining rebel strongholds in war-torn Syria.
The province is mostly controlled by an al-Qaeda-linked alliance.
In recent months, Idlib has been the destination of most people who had departed from other rebel areas in Syria. Some opposition groups have condemned evacuation deals as forced displacement.

Monday, March 26th 2018
Ramadan Al-Fatash (dpa)

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