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1146 rebels, families evacuate Douma district in Syria's Eastern Ghouta

03 April 2018

The government offensive on Ghouta has been one of the deadliest of the war, killing more than 1,600 civilians, according to the Observatory. The US military has not said if the IED was in a building, a vehicle or buried in the road. Just 11 kilometres (7 miles) from the Old City of Damascus, it was part of the capital's Ghouta hinterland, once famed for its orchards and produce. Syrian government forces responded by putting the town and other suburbs around Damascus under siege, bombing hospitals and residential areas, and blocking the entry of food and medical relief. By midday, only a handful had left for the north in three buses.

The top United Nations official in Syria, Ali Al-Za'tari, told the Dubai-based al-Arabiya TV in an interview aired Saturday that "Idlib can not take more people".

There was no immediate comment from the Army of Islam.

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"They will all have to agree to the settlement in the end", the source said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition watchdog based in Britain, said the fighters' departure would be followed by the entry of Russian Federation military police, who would guarantee the safety of residents who want to remain in Douma.

It was the first organized evacuation of fighters from Douma, which has held out against government forces through 7 years of war. Earlier Sunday, an agreement had been reached with civil authorities in Douma for hundreds of civilians to leave for Idlib, a northwestern province still largely outside regime control, the Observatory said.

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Syria's war, begun in 2011 with Assad's repression of anti-regime protests, has claimed more than 350,000 lives and displaced many millions, both inside its borders and to neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. It has been accused of abducting human rights activists and committing abuses as it crushed rival groups.

The evacuations are similar to those that have taken place in other parts of Syria throughout the country's conflict with rebel fighters and families able to leave areas besieged by government forces and go to places still held by the opposition. By mid-afternoon, eight buses had departed, with 448 people aboard - rebel fighters and their family members.

Russian Federation has been a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, ultimately helping to turn the tide of the devastating civil war in his favor. More than 120,000 people fled their homes under the five-week assault, seeking safety behind government lines, according to the Russian military.

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The unit of the powerful Lebanese Shia militia that has been fighting with the Syrian army said among the terms of the deal was setting up a Syrian government-approved local council to run the city's affairs after rebels withdraw.

1146 rebels, families evacuate Douma district in Syria's Eastern Ghouta