Thousands more leave enclave in Syria’s Ghouta as Assad takes back control
BEIRUT/AMMAN – Reuters
Thousands of people departed eastern Ghouta for Syrian rebel territory near the Turkish border on March 27, the third group to leave under a deal brokered by Russia to surrender the enclave near Damascus to the Syrian government.
Some 7,000 people - most of them fighters and their families - left on 100 buses in the early hours of the morning, to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. More buses drove into eastern Ghouta ahead of a further evacuation.
Rebels have been leaving Ghouta in batches with their families since Thursday, accepting safe passage to the Idlib region in northwestern Syria after they were beaten into retreat in a fierce assault by the Russian-backed Syrian army.
It marks the biggest defeat for the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad since insurgents were driven from eastern Aleppo in 2016, underscoring his unassailable military position in the seven-year-long conflict.
“We faced two choices: go to Idlib or make peace with the regime,” said Sakhr Yousef, a 24-year-old fighter with the Failaq al-Rahman faction as he was preparing to leave eastern Ghouta with his wife and four young siblings.
“Making peace with the regime is very difficult, making peace with those who bombed us with criminal Russia,” he added in a voice message to Reuters, referring to Assad’s main backer in the conflict.
The rebels being evacuated on March 27 were leaving from a tract of territory centered around the towns of Arbin, Ain Tarma and Zamalka that was controlled by Failaq al-Rahman rebels.
The last remaining insurgent-held area in Ghouta is the town of Douma. The United Nations said it is highly concerned for 70,000-78,000 people it said were trapped inside.