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'Biggest' evacuation sees more than 6700 people leave Ghouta

28 March 2018, 01:14 | Hattie Nash

Syrian Presidency Facebook Page via AP

Bashar Assad

Mayss Ahmad scans busloads of evacuees exiting a bombed-out town near Damascus, determined to see her long-lost father and brother again after they spent years in rebel captivity.

Government troops, backed by Russian Federation and loyalist militia, launched a ferocious assault more than a month ago to retake the enclave on the outskirts of of Damascus.

A convoy comprising 100 buses carrying almost 7,000 evacuated Syrian rebel fighters and civilians began leaving eastern Ghouta overnight, state media said on Tuesday. Should rebels lose their grip on Douma, their last stronghold in Eastern Ghouta, the opposition would be left with most of Idlib, Daraa and some parts of the northern suburbs of Homs. Plus, we look at the doctors on the front lines of the war on gun violence; the response from the people of Sacramento to the fatal shooting of Stephon Clark, who was unarmed; the expulsion of Russian diplomats from over 20 countries; and the disparity in healthcare that women of color face. On Monday, 26 Syrian military servicemen and civilians were freed from the captivity of the Faylaq al-Rahman group, based on previous agreements.

The government has refused to negotiate any mass prisoner release despite pressure from the U.N. Late Monday, rebels released 28 prisoners to the government.

Douma-based activist Laith al-Abdullah told Al Jazeera that Faylaq ar-Rahman are trying to evacuate their extended family members now trapped in Douma - despite ongoing negotiations.

Devastating air strikes and artillery fire have reduced large parts of Ghouta to ruins, forcing their residents to abandon them.

"The negotiations are to remain, not to leave", Army of Islam spokesman Hamza Bayraqdar told the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV from inside Douma.

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Some 110,000 people have fled into regime-held territory, a lot of them on foot or motorbike, through corridors opened up by the army and its Russian allies, according to state media.

One hundred buses carrying 6,749 people - around a quarter of them fighters - left the Faylaq-controlled pocket in the early hours of Tuesday, state news agency SANA said.

The United Nations says around 55,000 of them are housed in very basic conditions in regime-run temporary shelters on the edge of Ghouta.

Efforts are ongoing to facilitate the evacuation of more rebels, who will leave Eastern Ghouta through a crossing in the town of Arbeen and reach the government-controlled area on the outskirts of Arbeen before going to Idlib.

Russian military police, but not Syria's army, would deploy there.

Before they faltered, talks over Douma's fate had envisioned Jaish al-Islam laying down its heavy weapons in exchange for government-provided water and electricity returning to the town.

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