Thousands leave Syria’s Douma as evacuations wrapping up

Children wave as buses carrying Jaish al-Islam fighters and their families from their former rebel bastion of Douma arrive at the Abu al-Zindeen checkpoint controlled by Turkish-backed rebel fighters near the northern Syrian town of Al Bab
AFP

Beirut (Lebanon) (AFP) – Thousands of Islamist fighters and their relatives left the Syrian town of Douma they once controlled as the last evacuations from Eastern Ghouta continued Friday, a monitor said.

The fighters from the Jaish al-Islam group left overnight with thousands of civilians on board 85 buses that took them to areas of northern Syria still held by rebels.

The evacuations are part of a deal brokered by Damascus’s Russian ally to re-establish regime control on Eastern Ghouta, a area just on the edge of the capital that had escaped government control since 2012.

“After midnight, 85 buses left Eastern Ghouta carrying 4,000 people, both fighters and civilians,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring organisation said.

“Over the past few days, most of the Jaish al-Islam fighters have left Douma in four successive waves,” the Britain-based monitor’s head, Rami Abdel Rahman, said.

The group was the last in the erstwhile besieged Ghouta enclave to resist the exit proposed by Russia but an alleged chemical attack by the regime on April 7 appeared to break their will.

The government has consistently denied the attack and a delegation of experts from the OPCW chemical watchdog arrived in Damascus to investigate.

They are expected to start their work on Saturday.

“The evacuation operation should wrap up before the OPCW experts enter Douma,” Abdel Rahman said.

According to local medics and a statement by the World Health Organisation, more than 40 people died in the April 7 strike on Douma of symptoms consistent with the use of chemical weapons.

Jaish al-Islam rebels have already handed over or destroyed their heavy weapons and Russia announced on Thursday that the entire territory that was once the Eastern Ghouta rebel enclave was now under control.

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