Syria, Russia threaten new assault on holdout Ghouta town


The largest convoy yet of eastern Ghouta evacuees arrived in northwestern Syria Tuesday and the regime threatened to resume its blitz if the last holdout opposition fighters don't follow suit.

It also permits civilians and militants to either leave for northern Syria or remain in Eastern Ghouta and reconcile with the government of Bashar al-Assad, with guarantees from Moscow that they will not be prosecuted.

Russian-backed Syrian troops and allied militia have waged a brutal offensive since February 18 in which they have recaptured more than 90 percent of Ghouta, a onetime rebel bastion on the edge of Damascus.

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.

A total of six people were set free on Monday night from the rebels' captivity in the capital Damascus' Eastern Ghouta, state news agency SANA reported.

"We had defensive plans prepared, but regrettably Faylaq al-Rahman cut the water that was brought from Barada River", Bayraqdar told the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV.

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

Assad has used such evacuation agreements to recover swathes of territory since the uprising against his rule began seven years ago this month.

A Syrian evacuee from Eastern Ghouta carries an infant after arriving with others in the village of Qalaat al-Madiq
A Syrian evacuee from Eastern Ghouta carries an infant after arriving with others in the village of Qalaat al-Madiq

After the full evacuation of the Failaq al-Rahman rebels, only the Douma district in Eastern Ghouta would still be controlled by the rebels.

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

A Russian army spokesman said the rebels have indicated a willingness to lay down their arms.

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.

It said a "preliminary understanding" had been reached that would see the "dissolution of Jaish al-Islam, the handover of its heavy weapons and the return of state institutions to the city".

In Harasta, a Russia-brokered evacuation agreement mandated rebels release people they were detaining, and provided for hundreds of opposition fighters and members of their families to be bused out of the devastated town.

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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