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28 March 2018, 01:15 | Clyde Nash
Syrian Presidency Facebook Page via AP
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.
Jaish al-Islam, the powerful Islamist faction that holds Douma, had hoped that talks with Moscow would result in their staying in the town, instead of being bused out like other rebels.
The departure was part of a deal reached last week between the group and Russian Federation, which is helping its Syrian ally negotiate such deals to clear the last rebels out of Ghouta.
The source said Moscow urged them to follow the example of Faylaq al-Rahman, another Islamist faction that agreed last week to withdraw from its zone in Ghouta after huge military pressure.
In the previous two batches, on last Saturday and Sunday respectively, a total of 6,416 people, including rebels and their families, evacuated the same areas and moved to the rebel-held areas in the northwestern province of Idlib.
In November 2015, a Britain-based war monitor reported rebels in Eastern Ghouta were using dozens of captives taken hostage in Adra as "human shields". Not only did regime forces carry out arrests, but also conducted executions against civilians who chose to remain in its areas of control.
The evacuation agreement has been implemented smoothly, and it came right after a similar deal was reached and implemented in Harasta city in Eastern Ghouta, where rebels and their families had left before it became under the control of the government.
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President Bashar Al Assad has used such agreements to recover territory lost since the uprising against him began seven years ago this month.
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.
On February 18, the regime, its ally Russian Federation and loyalist militia launched an all-out air and ground assault that killed more than 1,600 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Under the second deal, rebels from Faylaq al-Rahman are being given safe passage to the northwest, along with thousands of civilians, in exchange for releasing prisoners they were holding.
"The ongoing negotiations with Russian Federation are to stay in Douma, not to leave it", said Jaish al-Islam spokesman Hamza Bayraqdar, without providing further details.
Eastern Ghouta, a 105-square-km agricultural region consisting of several towns and farmlands, poses the last threat to the capital due to its proximity to government-controlled neighborhoods east of Damascus and ongoing mortar attacks that target residential areas in the capital, pushing people over the edge. "This sped up the regime's advance".
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