Biggest convoy yet of Syrians leaves ruined Ghouta

Biggest convoy yet of Syrians leaves ruined Ghouta

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said more than 80,000 people had left formerly besieged parts of eastern Ghouta as control shifted since March 9.

Evacuations of Syrian opposition fighters and their families from Eastern Ghouta continued on Wednesday amid reports that Syrian pro-regime forces carried out field executions and arbitrary kidnappings of civilians.

The group reached a deal with Moscow on Friday and its implementation began the following morning with almost 1,000 people boarding buses and leaving.

That convoy brought the total number of evacuees from the pocket to 13,165 people, and more departures were expected later.

President Bashar al-Assad has used such agreements to recover swathes of territory since the uprising against him began seven years ago this month.

Talks are also under way for a deal over the third and final rebel-held pocket of Ghouta, which is held by Jaish al-Islam and includes the largest town in the area, Douma.

Douma-based activist Laith al-Abdullah told Al Jazeera that Faylaq ar-Rahman are trying to evacuate their extended family members now trapped in Douma - despite ongoing negotiations.

They have usually begun with the military encirclement of an area, followed by bombardment and a ground operation before a deal is reached.

Eastern Ghouta, a 105-square-km agricultural region consisting of several towns and farmlands, poses the last threat to the capital due to its proximity to government-controlled neighborhoods east of Damascus and ongoing mortar attacks that target residential areas in the capital, pushing people over the edge.

The regime responded with a crippling half-decade siege of the enclave's 400,000 residents, sealing off access to food, medicines and other goods.

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Many tens of thousands of people have also fled eastern Ghouta this month into areas controlled by the Syrian government.

Devastating air strikes and artillery fire have reduced large parts of Ghouta to ruins, forcing their residents to abandon them.

Jaish Al-Islam spokesman Hamza Bayraqdar has said the negotiations are focused on the rebels staying, not evacuating.

Syrian state media says at least 107,000 civilians have fled.

The source said Moscow urged them to follow the example of Faylaq al-Rahman, another Islamist faction that agreed last week to withdraw from its zone in Ghouta after enormous military pressure.

The Islamist group that controls Douma, Jaish al-Islam, is in talks with Russian Federation that have yet to yield a result.

A first deal saw the withdrawal of hardline Islamist rebels Ahrar al-Sham from the town of Harasta last week.

Eight were freed on Sunday and another 26 the following day, SANA said.

Lieutenant General Stanislav Gadzhimagomedov told Russian news agencies on Monday in Syria that he expects Russian troops to "take them (rebels) out soon", and that the rebels were reportedly willing to lay down arms. Jaish al-Islam is accusing the other rebels of not helping with joint defense, and Failaq al-Rahman in particular of cutting off water to fill trenches.

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