Thousands leave Ghouta in surrender of enclave to Syrian government

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Fighting in Ghouta despite rebel ceasefire attempt…

The largest convoy yet of Syrian rebel fighters and civilians began leaving a beseiged pocket of Eastern Ghouta overnight, state media said on Tuesday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says buses carrying hundreds of fighters belonging to the rebel group Faylaq al-Rahman, their family members and other civilians left eastern Ghouta late Saturday, bound for the rebel-held Idlib province in northern Syria.

The first agreement, with Ahrar al-Sham, saw more than 4,500 people including rebels leave the town of Harasta last week.

The government has refused to negotiate any mass prisoner release despite pressure from the U.N. Late Monday, rebels released 28 prisoners to the government.

Douma is the only town on the eastern outskirts of the Syrian capital still held by rebels, after government forces captured all other opposition areas they had besieged for years.

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The largest numbers have quit the towns of Arbin and Zamalka, and the adjacent district of Jobar, all controlled by the Faylaq Al-Rahman faction.

Almost 1,000 people - including rebels, their relatives and other civilians - were moved out on Saturday, followed by 5,435 people on Sunday.

Assad has used such evacuation agreements to recover swathes of territory since the uprising against his rule began seven years ago this month.

SANA added that work is ongoing for the release of more people.

The regime responded with a crippling half-decade siege of the enclave's 400,000 residents, sealing off access to food, medicines and other goods. At least 1,600 civilians have died in the carnage, and 5,000 more have been wounded, according to the United Kingdom -based observatory, which gathers information from a network of activists on the ground. Not only did regime forces carry out arrests, but also conducted executions against civilians who chose to remain in its areas of control.

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Gadzhimagomedov, who is the deputy head of the Chief Operational Department at the Russian General Staff, said he expects Russian troops to "take them out soon", and that the rebels have reportedly indicated their willingness to lay down arms.

Eight were freed on Sunday and another 26 the following day, SANA said.

More than 120,000 crossed the front lines for safety, the Russian military said Tuesday.

But divisions within opposition ranks were holding up the talks with some hardliners seeking to sabotage the proposed deal, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Before they faltered, talks over Douma's fate had envisioned Jaish al-Islam laying down its heavy weapons in exchange for government-provided water and electricity returning to the town.

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