Almost 6800 militants, families leave E. Ghouta, head to Idlib - Russian military

It echoes a pattern at other key moments in the seven-year-long war: rebels blamed each other as government forces and Iran-backed Shi'ite militias thrust into opposition parts of eastern Aleppo, won back by Assad in 2016.

Meanwhile, SANA said the third batch of rebels is preparing to leave Eastern Ghouta through Arbeen toward rebel-held areas in northern Syria after thousands have evacuated over the past two days.

Syria and its ally Russian Federation have threatened to resume bombing the final opposition holdout of Douma in Eastern Ghouta unless rebels there agree to evacuate, sources told AFP on Tuesday.

The first ceasefire agreement in Eastern Ghouta was concluded with the Ahrar al-Sham terrorist group that agreed to the evacuation of up to 7,500 militants and their families from the town of Harasta.

The second agreement, with Faylaq al-Rahman, was announced on Friday and evacuations began the following evening.

Russian Federation has brokered deals with Faylaq and another hardline group that has seen more than 17,000 rebels, their relatives, and other civilians bused out of Ghouta.

Lt. Gen. Stanislav Gadzhimagomedov told Russian news agencies on Monday in Syria that Russia's military is in talks with the Army of Islam rebel group for it to leave Douma.

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They have usually begun with the military encirclement of an area, followed by bombardment and a ground operation before a deal is reached.

Eastern Ghouta lies within mortar range of Damascus, and rebels had used it repeatedly as a launchpad for rocket attacks on the capital.

However, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were divisions among the group regarding negotiations over Douma, with some hardliners refusing any talks with Russians and those would likely be taken to the central Qalamoun region.

At the start of the offensive, the United Nations estimated 400,000 people were trapped inside the besieged area without access to food or medicine.

Devastating air strikes and artillery fire have reduced large parts of Ghouta to ruins, forcing their residents to abandon them. Their destination - the northwestern city of Idlib - is also home to other mainly Islamist rebels who reached similar deals with the government after enduring months or years of siege.

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said the deal could see Jaish al-Islam lay down heavy weapons in exchange for government-provided water and electricity returning to the town.

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.

  • Sonia Alvarado