Syria rebels prepare to quit penultimate pocket of Ghouta

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Syrian rebels and civilians gathered in rubble-strewn streets early on Saturday, awaiting evacuation from the penultimate opposition-held pocket of Eastern Ghouta.

Faylaq al-Rahman, the Islamist rebel group that controls the area, agreed to pull out in exchange for an end to nearly five weeks of devastating bombardment by the government and its allies.


State news agency SANA, citing a military source, said that “more than 105,000 civilians... exited Eastern Ghouta so far” but did not give additional details.

It was the first time in weeks that so many people were seen outside. Relentless shelling and air strikes had made it too dangerous to venture out of basement shelters, even to find food.

Many had their bags already packed in readiness for leaving their hometowns and heading northwest to Idlib, the last province still largely under opposition control.

In the nearby town of Zamalka, also included in the deal, ambulances were seen preparing to transport the sick and wounded for treatment.

In addition to Zamalka and Arbin, the agreement includes Ain Terma and parts of the Jobar district -- all controlled by Faylaq al-Rahman.

Eastern Ghouta was once the opposition’s main bastion on the outskirts of Damascus, but the government has recaptured more than 90 percent of it through a mixture of military pressure and evacuation deals.

The agreement with Faylaq came after a similar deal with the hardline Ahrar al-Sham rebel group, which saw the Ghouta town of Harasta emptied of rebel fighters on Thursday and Friday.

More than 4,500 people, including over 1,400 fighters, left for Idlib, state television reported.

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