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Syrian rebels begin Ghouta evacuation

Syrian rebels and their families began leaving Syria’s Eastern Ghouta on Thursday under the first evacuation deal in the shrinking opposition enclave outside Damascus.

The agreement, announced on Wednesday and brokered by regime ally Russia, could empty one of three rebel-held pockets in the region and mark a major advance in government efforts to secure the nearby capital.

It could also increase pressure on the rebels to follow suit in the two other opposition-held pockets of the besieged enclave, where tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped under relentless bombardment.

State television said around 1,130 people — including more than 230 fighters— had boarded buses from the Eastern Ghouta town of Harasta, until now held by the Ahrar al-Sham rebel group.

A military source told AFP that the rebels and accompanying civilians had boarded buses and were in a buffer zone, waiting to cross into regime-controlled territory.

Another military source said around 2,000 people are expected to leave in total, including around 700 fighters on Thursday.

Ahrar al-Sham spokesman Munzer Fares said the evacuations could last several days.

They followed renewed air strikes in Ghouta early on Thursday which killed 20 civilians, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Since February 18, a devastating Russian-backed offensive on Eastern Ghouta has sliced the shrinking enclave into three isolated pockets.

Central Damascus lies within mortar range of Eastern Ghouta, and the evacuation deal came after the deadliest rebel rocket attack on the capital in months killed 44 civilians on Tuesday.

Rebel fire on Thursday killed four people in Damascus, state television said.

The regime's offensive on Ghouta has killed more than 1,500 civilians since February 18, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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Printable version | Jul 14, 2020 4:56:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/syrian-rebels-begin-ghouta-evacuation/article23324759.ece

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