Biggest convoy yet leaves rebel pocket of Syria's Ghouta

A child looks out of the window of a bus as Syrian civilians and rebels evacuated from the Eastern Ghouta region arrive in Qalaat al-Mandiq near the central city of Hama

Mehmet Yuva from the University of Damascus has recalled that Turkey's Operation Euphrates Shield in Syria was followed by the liberation of Eastern Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta, which he said "evidently means that all these processes are interrelated".

The Jaish al Islam rebel faction in Syria's eastern Ghouta denied on Monday that its fighters were ready to lay down their arms and leave the Douma pocket, which they control.

Russian troops said yesterday that they expected to reach an agreement in talks with a Syrian insurgent group that would see it leave the last rebel-held town in eastern Ghouta.

Eastern Ghouta's largest city Douma remained the only part still under rebel control. Some in the area of about 400,000 people have sought sanctuary in underground hideouts, and food has been scarce since government forces wrested control of tunnels used to smuggle supplies.

The Army of Islam has held Douma, near Damascus, for years.

Some 110,000 people have fled into government-held territory, a lot of them on foot or motorbike, through corridors opened up by the army and its Russian allies, according to state media.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that regime forces have intensified their operations in eastern Ghouta affecting 90 percent of the area.

How control on the ground in Eastern Ghouta changed between February 18-25
How control on the ground in Eastern Ghouta changed between February 18-25

To help it capture the rest, Russian Federation has mediated talks with various groups to negotiate withdrawals from the three remaining pockets.

After weeks of heavy bombardment, two other rebel groups as well as al-Qaida fighters withdrew from their strongholds, leaving Douma as the last major town in rebel hands.

More buses were ready Monday to take around 1,100 people, including fighters and several hundred children, out of the same area, according to state media.

Harasta's evacuation - which began on March 22 - was the first such deal in eastern Ghouta negotiated by Russian Federation. "Accordingly, the cleansing of terrorists from Eastern Ghouta means these players' complete surrender in this direction and the suppression of the activity of local [militant] groups", Yuva said.

Faylaq al-Rahman said in a statement Friday that the deal will lead to the immediate evacuation of sick and wounded people for treatment and to allow aid to enter the besieged area.

Russian and Iranian military backing for Assad has also far outstripped support that had been offered to rebel groups from foreign states including Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Syria's pro-government Al-Watan daily reported similar terms and said the parties had three days to study the offer. "We couldn't even find fodder to eat".

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