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Syrian Rebels Evacuating Part of Eastern Ghouta

Rebel fighters gather and pray before they leave, at the city limits of Harasta, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria, March 22, 2018.

More than 1,500 Syrian rebel fighters and their families are evacuating a town in the besieged Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta as the army moves closer to recapturing the entire capital.

Dozens of white buses pulled out of the town of Harasta on their way to Idlib, which is still in rebel hands.

Rebel officials say they expect the evacuation to last several days and will leave just two other eastern Ghouta enclaves in opposition control.

The evacuation deal was brokered by Russia and worked out between Syrian rebels and the government. It also includes a prison 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, 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 two with the evacuation of Harasta.

The fighting has killed more than 1,500 people and left civilians who were unable or unwilling to leave their homes to deal with severe food shortages and scant medical care.

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