Damascus: A new group of rebels and other civilians left Syria’s Douma on Friday, state media said, paving the way for the government to declare full control over the onetime opposition enclave.
The evacuations are part of a negotiated withdrawal reached last weekend for Douma, the final holdout in the rebels’ former stronghold of Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus.
State news agency SANA reported the departures from Douma were ongoing on Friday, in preparation for announcing it cleared of opposition fighters.
In the morning, 95 empty buses entered Douma to carry out civilians and rebels from ‘Jaish Al-Islam’, the opposition faction present in the town.
More than 60 have reemerged full of fighters and their relatives and were waiting at a gathering point on the edge of Ghouta for the rest of the buses, state media reported.
Once the convoy was complete, they would move together to opposition-controlled territory in northern Syria.
The evacuations are part of a deal brokered by Damascus’s Russian ally to re-establish regime control over Ghouta, an area just on the edge of the capital that had escaped government control since 2012.
Moscow has said it expected 40,000 civilians and 8,000 rebels to leave Douma.
‘Jaish Al-Islam’ said it only agreed to pull out of Douma after a suspected chemical attack on April 7 that appeared to break their will.
Some 4,000 people had already left overnight aboard 85 buses, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“Over the past few days, most of the ‘Jaish Al-Islam’ fighters have left Douma in four successive waves,” said the Britain-based monitor’s head, Rami Abdel Rahman.
The government has consistently denied using chemical weapons, including in Douma, and invited the world’s top chemical watchdog to investigate.