Last rebels in Ghouta negotiate as others bused away



A Syrian boy looks at the damage following reported air strikes on the rebel-held besieged town of Douma in the eastern Ghouta region, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on 6 February 2018.

The departure was part of a deal reached last week between the Islamist group and Russian Federation, which is helping its Syrian ally negotiate such deals to clear the last rebels out of Ghouta. However, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were divisions within the group.

A convoy comprising 100 buses carrying almost 7,000 evacuated Syrian rebel fighters and civilians began leaving eastern Ghouta overnight, state media said on Tuesday.

On Monday, a convoy of 56 buses carrying 3,641 people, including 850 fighters from various rebel factions, was preparing to leave the towns of Jobar, Zamalka, Ein Terma, and Arbeen toward Idlib, state-affiliated al-Ikhbariya TV reported.

Moscow has negotiated two evacuation deals so far for Ghouta.

The regime has repeatedly used such "reconciliation deals" to recapture territory lost to rebels during Syria's seven-year war.

The regime responded by imposing a crippling half-decade siege on the suburb's 400,000 residents, sealing off their access to food, medicine and other goods.

Four major rebel groups are now positioned inside Eastern Ghouta, namely the Islam Army, Failaq al-Rahman, Ahrar al-Sham, and the Nusra Front.

The agreement will also see the release of kidnapped people by the rebels and lists of names were handed over to the Russian side, the report said.

Some 200,000 people are estimated to remain in Douma, including many who fled other parts of Ghouta as regime forces advanced.

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.

Syria's pro-government Al-Watan daily said the parties had three days to study the proposal.

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