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Syria: Assad closes in on Ghouta as rebels leave
25 March 2018, 12:55 | Floyd Cook
A boy holds a tray of cookies in the besieged town of Douma Eastern Ghouta
Busses carrying Syrian rebels and civilians left a battered second pocket of Eastern Ghouta late Saturday, state media said, in the latest deal for the former opposition enclave.
Russia's Defence Ministry said more than 105,000 people have left Syria's Eastern Ghouta rebel enclave, including another 700 on Saturday since government forces began an assault to retake it a month ago, RIA news agency reported, citing the military.
Rebels completed a negotiated withdrawal from one Ghouta town on Friday and a similar deal was reached the same day for Faylaq al-Rahman fighters to pull out of a second pocket.
Faylaq al-Rahman, the Islamist rebel group that controls the area, agreed to pull out in exchange for an end to almost five weeks of devastating bombardment by the government and its allies.
The evacuations from the towns of Zamalka, Arbin and Ain Tarma had been scheduled to begin Saturday morning, but the buses designated for the operation did not enter until the afternoon.
A third part of the enclave, which includes the city of Douma in the north, is controlled by the Jaish al-Islam opposition group and is the last section under rebel influence.
Faylaq al-Rahman group, which agreed to a ceasefire late Thursday following another wave of deadly air strikes, confirmed the agreement.
Syrian forces, backed by Russian Federation, launched air and rocket attacks and took back control of most of eastern Ghouta last month.
"Nothing must lead to weakening the pressure" on what is left of the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, Macron said.
The arrangement is one of two evacuation agreements reached between the warring parties, another being the northwest province of Idlib in an effort to administer to the sick and wounded in these sections and slow the Russian-backed seven-year civil war which has killed more than 1,600 Syrians.
The rebels said in a statement Friday that the agreement will allow humanitarian aid and medical care to be delivered to civilians in the area, who have lived through years of occupation and almost nonstop fighting as of late.
Al-Ikhbariya TV on Friday showed hundreds of men, women and children heading out on foot from the Wafideen crossing that links the rebel-controlled town of Douma to Damascus.
"We hate the fact that we have to leave Ghouta", said Abu Khaled, a 28-year-old jihadist fighter and Ghouta native.
The military offensive to capture Ghouta back from the rebels consisted of days of near-continuous shelling and the deaths of some 1,600 people, according to the war monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Eastern Ghouta's largest city Douma remained the only part still under rebel control.
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said the buses would go first to Idlib, then may head to Afrin - a flashpoint town recently captured by Turkey and its rebel proxies from Kurdish forces.
With the conflict grinding on into its eighth year, Syria's government is more determined than ever to clear opposition holdouts around the capital.
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