Monday, 15 October, 2018

Hundreds gather to leave second pocket in Syria's Ghouta

Russian strikes kill 37 in E Ghouta All kinds of illegal weapons used in E. Ghouta: UN spox
Andrew Cummings | 25 March, 2018, 00:44

Air strikes killed 37 people in a Syrian town hours before a ceasefire began, rescuers have said.

Eastern Ghouta's six-year rebel rule was in its dying moments on Friday as fighters evacuated one of the Syrian enclave's three remaining pockets and a deal was reached for another, regime media and an opposition monitoring group said.

The government of President Bashar Al Assad and its ally Russian Federation have implemented a "leave or die" strategy with air strikes on rebel-held areas as they look to end six years of opposition control.

The state media say more than 6,000 left the day before.

Faylaq al-Rahman, the Islamist rebel group that controls the area, agreed to pull out in exchange for an end to almost five weeks of devastating bombardment by the government and its allies.

The evacuations from the towns of Zamalka, Arbin and Ain Tarma had been scheduled to begin Saturday morning, but the buses designated for the operation did not enter until the afternoon.

Meanwhile, Syrian rebels agreed to surrender a second besieged enclave in eastern Ghouta on Friday, state television reported, as their comrades in another insurgent pocket in the area continued their withdrawal after a month-long assault by the army.

The combatants handed over their heavy weapons and left Harasta as part of an agreement reached between the Syrian authorities and the Islamic Movement of the Free People of the Levant (frequently referred to as Ahrar al-Sham).

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Another person released said "they used to beat us, keep us hungry and place us underground in the cold and we did not know when they would kill us".

Evacuation to Idlib allows the regime to move fighters to an area far from the capital and mitigate the immediate risk the rebels pose.

Each one of the three pockets has come under intense bombardment, essentially forcing the rebels that control them to sue for an evacuation.

The city of Harasta, which overlooks the main highway between Damascus and the central and northern region, has been declared rebel-free, after the last batch of rebels and their families left that area towards rebel-held areas in northern Syria.

Ahrar al-Sham had made some demands in the talks but were pummelled into accepting whatever conditions were imposed to them.

They said the majority of victims in Arbin were women and children.

AFP video and pictures from Douma, which is controlled by the Salafist rebel faction Jaish Al Islam, showed bright white streams falling from the sky in a fashion consistent with incendiary munitions.

"Other civilians are leaving as well, people who were involved in opposition activities like media activists, medics, civil defense volunteers", said Al Jazeera correspondent Zeina Khodr, explaining that they are often considered terrorists by state authorities and as such are at risk.

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