Talks over last rebel pocket in Ghouta stall

Syrian insurgents ready to quit last rebel town in Ghouta

Late last week, the Russian Defense Ministry said that civilians have continued to leave Eastern Ghouta via the humanitarian corridors, and that more than 108,000 people have already fled the area since the introduction of daily humanitarian pauses.

A third set of talks is ongoing over the final pocket, controlled by Jaish al-Islam and including the largest town in the area, Douma.

It echoes a pattern at other key moments in the seven-year-long war: rebels blamed each other as government forces and Iran-backed Shi'ite militias thrust into opposition parts of eastern Aleppo, won back by Assad in 2016.

Lieutenant General Stanislav Gadzhimagomedov told Russian news agencies on Monday in Syria that he expects Russian troops to "take them (rebels) out soon", and that the rebels were reportedly willing to lay down arms.

As a result of the push, the Syrian army's 4th Division managed to capture several buildings inside of 'Ayn Tarma, including the Faylaq Al-Rahman command-and-control center.

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A civilian committee representing Douma said in a statement released late on Sunday after meeting Russian officials that the negotiations "are extremely hard and no quick results should be expected".

The second agreement, with Faylaq al-Rahman, was announced on Friday and evacuations began the following evening.

Talks with the Russians will resume within three days, it said.

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.

Evacuations of Syrian opposition fighters and their families from Eastern Ghouta continued on Wednesday amid reports that Syrian pro-regime forces carried out field executions and arbitrary kidnappings of civilians.

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It would also provide for the deployment of Russian military police and the return of regime institutions and basic services like water and electricity. Should rebels lose their grip on Douma, their last stronghold in Eastern Ghouta, the opposition would be left with most of Idlib, Daraa and some parts of the northern suburbs of Homs.

The group has accused Syrian government of trying to change demographic balance of eastern Ghouta by forcing out locals and replacing them with its allies.

Syrian state TV said Faylaq al-Rahman will hand over maps of underground tunnels as well as others marking mines planted by the group in areas it controlled.

"These trenches dried up which sped up the regime's advances", said Hamza Birqdar, the spokesman.

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