Syrian Government Declares Victory Over Eastern Ghouta

Sergeant Matt Tonroe

It was not clear if that was part of a broader deal including the pullout of fighters, though state television said information indicated that an agreement had been reached.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said dozens of buses had entered Douma early in the day to evacuate the rebels to areas near the Turkish-Syrian border that are controlled by opposition groups.

These include more than 1,000 people - fighters from another faction, Faylaq al-Rahman, and family members - who left Douma late Sunday, according to regime media.

Successive evacuation deals were reached with rebel forces in parts of the enclave, with more than 45,000 fighters and civilians bussed out in recent weeks.

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An agreement was reached with the powerful Jaish al Islam rebel faction to leave Douma, a town of at least 100,000 people roughly six miles northeast of downtown Damascus and the last area in Ghouta still in rebel hands, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported Sunday.

The retaking of Eastern Ghouta would mark a major milestone in President Bashar al-Assad's efforts to regain control of territory seized by rebel factions during Syria's seven-year civil war.

"A total of 448 Jaish al-Islam terrorists and their families left Douma prior to being transported to Jarabulus city", which lies some 398 kilometers (248 miles) northeast of the capital, Damascus, Syria's official news agency SANA reported on Monday. Backed by Russia, Mr Assad's forces have scored a series of victories over rebel forces in recent years, often through campaigns of siege, aerial bombardment as well as ground offensives that have drawn widespread worldwide condemnation.

Approximately 450 people left Douma city on Monday in an eight-bus convoy headed for opposition-held Jarablus, in northern Syria, local activists told Syria Direct. Pro-opposition media sources reported that all of Monday's evacuees were sick and injured civilians. "Later, fighters rejecting the deal would exit the area while the others stay inside the city with their light weapons", the sources said, adding that Russia's military police would then be deployed inside Douma to take control of the town.

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Pope Francis called yesterday for an end to "carnage" in Syria and "reconciliation" in the Middle East in his Easter message. At least 1,644 civilians, including 344 children, have been killed in the offensive that began on February 18 and reduced some neighborhoods to rubble, according to SOHR, which monitors the seven-year Syrian war through activists on the ground.

They included fighters from the Faylaq al-Rahman and Ahrar al-Sham rebel groups, their families and other residents. It gave no further details nor did it say when the planned evacuations would start.

The opposition has been negotiating with Russian Federation, a key ally of Assad, for days on an agreement to evacuate Douma.

"Of course I would rather leave".

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Pro-regime newspaper Al Watan said in an editorial on Monday it was a matter of hours until Douma was declared a "town empty of terrorism".

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