More than 5,000 civilians leave Eastern Ghouta as militants begin withdrawal
Over 5,000 civilians have left Eastern Ghouta through humanitarian corridors on Thursday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said. The militants also reportedly began withdrawing from the area, as part of a deal with the Syrian government.
“Starting from the early hours of March 22, more than 5000 civilians have come out through the checkpoints in Eastern Ghouta,” Russia’s Reconciliation Center in Syria said, adding that the evacuation of the population from the terrorist-held areas continues. Those fleeing the Damascus suburb, which recently became the new hotspot of the Syrian conflict, were provided with hot food, water and sleeping accessories by the Russian troops, it added.
Earlier, the Reconciliation Center head, Major-General Yuri Yevtushenko, said that a total of 86,000 people have used the Russia-brokered humanitarian corridors to leave the besieged Eastern Ghouta since late February.
A withdrawal deal has been reached between the Syrian government and the Ahrar al-Sham group on Wednsday, SANA news agency reported. The militants agreed to abandon the town of Harasta in Eastern Ghouta in exchange for unhindered passage to the northern province of Idlib.
The deal also included Ahrar al-Sham sharing the map of their underground tunnels, and the burial sites of Syrian troops, with the government. It’s planned that a total of 1,500 fighters and 6,000 civilians will be evacuated as part of the accord.
SANA also said that 13 people, who were held captive by the militants, have been freed early on Thursday. Reports in other media claimed that those released were Syrian troops that were swapped for five Ahrar al-Sham fighters. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) says some 1,300 people, among them militants, have already left the city.
Ahrar al-Sham remains one of the largest armed groups fighting the Syrian government as it controls a vast area in the Idlib Province and has more than 16,000 fighters among its ranks. Despite the capitulation of Ahrar al-Sham in the face of the advancing Syrian forces, the two other major groups in Eastern Ghouta – Jaysh al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman – have turned down the withdrawal deals and vowed to continue fighting till the end.
However, Faylaq al-Rahman said late on Thursday that the UN has mediated a ceasefire for the area under the group's control, starting from midnight (2200 GMT).
The militants shelled Damascus again on Thursday, firing 16 rockets at residential areas of the Syrian capital, killing four people and injuring 13 others.
On Tuesday, at least 37 people were killed and dozens wounded after terrorists carried out a missile strike on Jaramana town in Eastern Ghouta, in violation of the humanitarian pause, and hit a crowded market.
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