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Estimated 105,000 Syrians Have Left Eastern Ghouta

Rebel fighters pray before they are evacuated, outside Harasta in eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria, March 23, 2018.

Russian and Syrian media say more than 105,000 people have left Syria's eastern Ghouta area, including some 7,000 members of one of the rebel groups occupying the area.

Thousands of fighters and their families departed the area by bus, according to an agreement between the Faylaq al-Rahman rebel group and Russian and Syrian authorities.

The departure comes a day after Faylaq al-Rahman agreed to surrender its territory in Ghouta — including the suburbs of Arbeen, Zamalka, Ein Tarma, and Jobar — in exchange for safe passage north to Idlib province.

The rebels said in a statement Friday that the agreement will allow humanitarian aid and medical care to be delivered to civilians in the area, who have lived through years of occupation and nearly nonstop fighting as of late.

Syrian Central Military Media said a safe corridor is being prepared for the movement of rebels, family members, and other civilians to leave the area. Sand barricades at a major intersection in the town of Harasta are being removed so the road may be used to convey people to rebel-held parts of northern Syria.

Russian control

As Russian troops take over the towns of Arbeen, Zamalka, Ein Tarma, and Jobar in eastern Ghouta, Faylaq al-Rahman says it and the government will hold a prisoner exchange, swapping 3,500 people held by the rebels for allowing 3,000 "humanitarian cases" to be evacuated.

A girl looks at the camera during evacuations from eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria.
A girl looks at the camera during evacuations from eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria.

The departure of the rebels from their long-held Ghouta enclave means that only one other pocket of rebellion remains in the area: the city of Douma, capital of Douma district.

The military offensive to capture Ghouta back from the rebels consisted of days of near-continuous shelling and the deaths of some 1,600 people, according to the war monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In Idlib on Saturday, a car bomb exploded, killing at least seven people and wounded 25 others, the Observatory said.

On Friday, Faylaq al-Rahman said according to its agreement with Russian and Syrian government authorities, civilians who decide to stay in eastern Ghouta will be guaranteed safety. Russian police are expected to deploy in areas currently controlled by Failaq al-Rahman, including the suburbs of Arbeen, Zamalka, Ein Tarma, and Jobar.

Syrian state news agency, SANA, reported that more than 4,000 people left Ghouta on Friday. State media said more than 6,000 left the day before.

Rebel officials say they expect the evacuation to last several days.

The evacuation deal was brokered by Russia and worked out between Syrian rebels and the government. It also includes a prisoner swap and is similar to other agreements that let opposition fighters and their families leave besieged areas peacefully.

Syrian forces, backed by Russia, launched air and rocket attacks and took back control of most of eastern Ghouta last month.

The operation split the region into three nonadjacent, rebel-held pockets, which are now down to one — Douma — after recent evacuations.