Rebels begin leaving new area outside Damascus: state media

A Syrian rebel fighter evacuated from the town of Dumayr, east of the capital Damascus, holds his son while sitting in a bus upon arriving in the city of Azaz in the northern countryside of Aleppo on April 20, 2018
AFP

Damascus (AFP) – Rebels started leaving a new area outside the Syrian capital Saturday, state media said, after a new deal was reached between opposition fighters and the Russia-backed regime.

The agreement for the East Qalamun area is the latest in a string of deals that have seen rebels and civilians bussed out of former opposition strongholds near Damascus.

“Buses carrying terrorists and their families start exiting Al-Ruhayba”, a town in East Qalamun some 60 kilometres (35 miles) northeast of Damascus, state news agency SANA said, using its usual term for rebels.

State television said 3,200 fighters and their relatives were expected to leave Al-Ruhayba, as well as the nearby towns of Al-Nasiriya and Jayrud on Saturday.

It showed images of buses moving in what it said was Al-Ruhayba, most with their curtains drawn.

SANA late Friday said an agreement had been reached for fighters to leave Al-Ruhayba, Jayrud and Al-Nasiriya starting Saturday.

They would be transferred to the rebel-held northern town of Jarabulus in Aleppo province and to the neighbouring province of Idlib, where hardline rebels have their strongest grip on power.

The regime is pushing to secure the capital after it announced its full reconquest last week of what was the last major rebel bastion outside Damascus.

Eastern Ghouta was emptied of rebels after a nearly two-month deadly assault on the enclave and several Russia-brokered deals that saw tens of thousands of people transported on buses to Syria’s north.

Earlier this week, a deal was inked that saw around 5,000 people including 1,500 fighters exit Dumayr, a town just to the south of Al-Ruhayba.

The regime has simultaneously turned its sights on the southern districts of the capital where the Islamic State jihadist group has a presence.

Regime forces have bombarded the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp on the southern edge of Damascus in recent days in a bid to dislodge IS fighters.

Syria’s conflict has killed 350,000 people and displaced millions more since it broke out in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

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