Hundreds of Syrian rebels, civilians leave besieged town of Harasta

BEIRUT, Weedah Hamzah (dpa) - Hundreds of rebels and civilians left a besieged opposition town near the Syrian capital Damascus on Thursday, as heavy strikes continued on north-western Syria.
Some 1,760 people left the town of Harasta on board at least 26 buses, the first group to leave as part of an evacuation deal with the government.
The evacuees included some 308 insurgents and 577 children, Syria's state news agency SANA reported.

As night fell, buses were seen lining up on a major road outside Harasta waiting to move towards Idlib, a major rebel stronghold in north-western Syria.
Harasta is part of Eastern Ghouta, an opposition stronghold on the outskirts of Damascus that has been the target of an intense government campaign in recent weeks.
Fighters from the rebel group Ahrar al-Sham, which controls Harasta, agreed to leave the town and lay down their heavy weapons.
Government forces will later enter the town under a Russian-brokered deal reached between Harasta's leaders and the government.
Around 7,500 people, including 1,500 rebel fighters, will leave Harasta under the agreement, the pro-government Military Media Unit reported on Wednesday.
On February 18, forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad started a major operation to retake Eastern Ghouta, one of the last remaining areas under rebel control near Damascus.
The forces have since advanced deep inside the enclave and split it up, triggering a mass exodus.
In Idlib, airstrikes on a public market in Harem city killed at least 20 people, Mustafa al-Haj-Youssef, from the rescue team White Helmets in Idlib, told dpa.
"Two airstrikes targeted the market. Our team has pulled out so far 20 bodies, but there are more under the rubble," he said, adding that the bodies were charred and others were ripped into pieces.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said planes, believed to be Russian, hit Harem city, which is close to the Syrian-Turkish border, killing and wounding tens of people.
This is the second airstrike to target areas in Idlib in the past 20 hours.
On Wednesday, at least 20 civilians, including 16 children, were killed in airstrikes that targeted the area of Kfar Batikh, in the southern part of Idlib province.
Idlib is mainly controlled by the hardline al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group. The province has been targeted by government and Russian airstrikes in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, in Eastern Ghouta, government and Russian airstrikes continued on the southern part of the enclave which is controlled by the rebel group Faylaq al-Rahman, the observatory said.
The strikes resulted in the killing of three people in Arbeen and 16 others in Zamalka town as well as wounding 40 others, the watchdog said.
Rebels also fired 20 shells on areas in the centre of Damascus, killing seven people and wounding 15 others, the observatory said.
Over the past four months some 191, among them 25 children, have killed in the repeated rebel shelling on the capital, while some 840 were wounded.

Thursday, March 22nd 2018
Weedah Hamzah

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