Syria: Biggest convoy yet leaves eastern Ghouta as rebel evacuation gathers pace

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A Syrian soldier flashes a victory sign as a bus of evacuated rebels moves out of the gathering point on the outskirts of Arbeen town in the capital Damascus' Eastern Ghouta area, Syria, March 26, 2018.

Almost 6,800 members of the Faylaq al-Rahman militant group and their family members left the Arbil settlement in Syria's Eastern Ghouta on Monday, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

The first agreement, with Ahrar al-Sham, saw more than 4,500 people including rebels leave the town of Harasta last week.

Army of Islam spokesman Hamza Bayraqdar blasted the group's former ally, the Faylaq al-Rahman rebel group, accusing it of helping government forces capture more than 80 percent of rebel-held districts after they dried out artificial swamps set up by insurgents to slow down the army's offensive.

The evacuation - the biggest yet out of the devastated enclave outside capital Damascus - is part of a deal reached last week between the Faylaq al-Rahman rebel faction and Russian Federation, which backs the Syrian government.

Four major rebel groups are now positioned inside Eastern Ghouta, namely the Islam Army, Failaq al-Rahman, Ahrar al-Sham, and the Levant Liberation Committee, known as the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.

The deal with Faylaq al-Rahman on Friday has so far seen 6,400 people leaving.

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Almost 1,000 people - including rebels, their relatives and other civilians - were evacuated on Saturday, followed by 5,435 people on Sunday.

"The Russians don't want an agreement for Douma that's different from other parts of Ghouta, but Jaish al-Islam wants to stay and doesn't want any residents to leave", the source said.

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. At least 1,600 civilians have died in the carnage, and 5,000 more have been wounded, according to the United Kingdom -based observatory, which gathers information from a network of activists on the ground.

Yuva also stressed that there have been no provocations in Syria's Idlib governorate during the ongoing military operation in Eastern Ghouta, and that Turkey has essentially supported Syrian government forces.

Russian military police, but not Syria's army, would deploy there. Some 200,000 people, including many who fled other parts of Ghouta, are estimated to remain in the town.

But divisions within opposition ranks were holding up the talks, Abdel Rahman told AFP.

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

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