More Than 1,000 People Leave Last Rebel Pocket in Eastern Ghouta: State Media
Syria’s state-run SANA news agency on Tuesday said that 1,130 people, including rebels and their families, have been evacuated from the last rebel pocket in Eastern Ghouta.
The Russian Ministry of Defense reported a similar number, saying that some 1,123 rebel fighters and their families have left Douma town in the past 24 hours, Reuters said, citing the Interfax news agency.
SANA said the evacuation of fighters from Jaish al-Islam, the last rebel group in Eastern Ghouta, began on Monday. It comes as part of an agreement between the Syrian government and the rebel group, which grants fighters safe passage to the northern city of Jarablus in return for their withdrawal from Douma.
SANA said that the evacuation of Jaish al-Islam fighters from Eastern Ghouta is expected to be completed on Tuesday. If true, this would mark the end of a more than month-long government offensive that has killed at least 1,600 people. However, an unidentified Syrian military source told Reuters on Monday that some rebels were rejecting the evacuation agreement.
Syrian Government Seeks to Recapture Eastern Qalamoun Region
The Syrian government and its allies have called on rebel forces to leave a besieged pocket northeast of Damascus or accept state rule, Reuters reported on Tuesday.
Said Saif, a spokesperson for the Martyr Ahmad Abdo rebel group said that a Russian colonel and an officer from the Syrian Air Force Intelligence served the ultimatum to civilians from the eastern Qalamoun area during a meeting.
“A clear message was sent to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups in the area: either reconciliation and disarmament – handing weapons to the Syrian government as the Russians describe it – or departing eastern Qalamoun,” the rebel spokesperson was quoted as saying.
According to the Voice of America, negotiations are currently underway between local councils of the main towns in eastern Qalamoun and representatives from the Syrian government to avoid a military confrontation in the region.
“The rebels and local councils are trying to spare the populated towns from a fate similar to the one of Eastern Ghouta, they seek to let people stay in their homes and avoid large-scale destruction of the area,” Abdullah Abdul Karim, a journalist based in Syria told VOA.
Rebels have until Wednesday to respond to the Syrian government, VOA said.
The eastern Qalamoun region is located some 25 miles (40km) outside Damascus and is separate from the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus. The area includes a few towns and a stretch of desert territory, Reuters said.
The region has been under rebel control since 2013. According to VOA, some 350,000 civilians live in the area, including a number of internally displaced peoples who have fled fighting in Homs and Eastern Ghouta.
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