Thursday, 20 September, 2018

Rebels free five prisoners in Syria's eastern Ghouta

Syrian civilians and fighters prepare to board buses during the evacuation from Eastern Ghouta Syrian civilians and fighters prepare to board buses during the evacuation from Eastern Ghouta
Charlie Simmons | 07 April, 2018, 00:44

The last Syrian rebel group in eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, has begun withdrawing under an agreement with the government, state media report.

Jaish al-Islam is the last remaining rebel group in Eastern Ghouta but has repeatedly denied agreeing to leave the area.

Jaish al-Islam has been in Russian-brokered negotiations with the Syrian government for several days now.

A military source told Reuters on Monday that some elements of Jaish al-Islam were still rejecting a deal and that military force would be used if they refused to accept one.

In previous evacuations, buses leaving Douma have gathered near Wafideen or on the side of the motorway outside Damascus, and waited for hours for others to join them before setting off as a full convoy to northern Syria.

There was no immediate comment from the Army of Islam.

A total of 40,000 civilians have returned home in the Syrian capital Damascus' Eastern Ghouta, where the army almost gained full control, the state news agency SANA reported Tuesday.

It is also unclear whether all of the Army of Islam fighters have agreed to leave and how long the evacuations will take.

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State media has said Jaish al-Islam had accepted a deal giving its fighters safe passage to towns that are located in a buffer zone on the border with Turkey that is controlled by the Turkish military and allied Syrian rebel groups.

It says a local council for Douma will be formed with the approval of the central government. Syrian government forces responded by putting the town and other suburbs around Damascus under siege, bombing hospitals and residential areas, and blocking the entry of food and medical relief.

"The joint investigation mechanism that emerged from UN resolution 2235 proves that Syrian regime forces have used chemical weapons at least three times while it was still investigating other incidents before Russian Federation ended its mission using its veto in the UN Security Council" the report said.

The evacuation involves Fuaa and Kafraya, two Shiite areas in Idlib province surrounded by rebels, and the rebel-held towns of Zabadani and Madaya.

The government lost control of Douma, the largest urban centre in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, in the early phase of Syria's civil war, now in its eighth year.

On Wednesday, the leaders of Russian Federation, fellow regime supporter Iran and rebel-backer Turkey are to meet for a summit devoted to Syria.

Eastern Ghouta lies within mortar range of the capital, and last month the deadliest rebel rocket attack on the capital in months killed 44 civilians.

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