Syrians Flee Eastern Ghouta Under Tenuous Ceasefire

Syrians Flee Eastern Ghouta Under Tenuous Ceasefire

Syrians Flee Eastern Ghouta Under Tenuous Ceasefire

A third rebel group in Eastern Ghouta's Douma, the enclave's biggest town, home to about 140,000 people, has refused to surrender and is still engaged in negotiations.

Late last week, a tentative ceasefire allowed thousands of civilians and rebel fighters to leave Ghouta and relocate in the northwestern province of Idlib.

Syrian government forces and allied militia have recaptured about 80 percent of the former rebel bastion since they launched a brutal offensive last month that has left hundreds of people dead and rendered many more homeless. It put the total figure of civilians and rebels evacuated from the area since the Russia-sponsored "humanitarian pauses" were announced at 114,000 people.

Separately, Army of Islam spokesman Hamza Bayraqdar has accused the Faylaq al-Rahman rebels of helping government forces make inroads in the enclave after they dried out artificial swamps set up by the rebel fighters to slow down the Syrian forces' advance.

They have usually begun with the military encirclement of an area, followed by bombardment and a ground operation before a deal is reached.

Russian Federation and the Assad regime it supports reportedly threatened to resume their blistering bombardment if the last holdout pocket that includes the main Ghouta town of Douma does not agree to a similar deal.

Holed up inside Eastern Ghouta, foreign-backed militants have been launching indiscriminate mortar and rocket attacks on Damascus, which have resulted in many civilian deaths.

The regime responded with a crippling half-decade siege on the suburb's 400,000 residents, sealing off access to food, medicine and other goods.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights placed the number of civilians leaving Eastern Ghouta at 140,000.

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Devastating air strikes and artillery fire have reduced large parts of Ghouta to ruins, forcing their residents to abandon them.

The United Nations says around 55,000 of them are housed in very basic conditions in regime-run temporary shelters on the edge of Ghouta.

Russian troops said yesterday that they expected to reach an agreement in talks with a Syrian insurgent group that would see it leave the last rebel-held town in eastern Ghouta.

The deal, brokered by the Russians, also demanded for the release of the kidnapped people from the rebels' custody.

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

Jaish al-Islam would lay down its heavy weapons in exchange for government-provided water and electricity returning to the town.

Al-Watan quoted Syrian legislator Mohammed Kheir Seiryoul, who is originally from Douma, as saying that the understanding could lead to an agreement to dissolve the Army of Islam.

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.

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