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Largest convoy to evacuate Ghouta arrives in north-west Syria

Regime forces backed by Russia launched a devastating assault last month to recapture Ghouta. [Getty]

Date of publication: 27 March, 2018

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Two deals between the Syrian opposition and regime have seen thousands of rebels, their relatives and other civilians bused out of bombed-out Ghouta districts to Idlib province.

The largest convoy yet of rebel fighters and civilians to evacuate Eastern Ghouta arrived in north-western Syria on Tuesday, further emptying the one-time opposition bastion.

Regime forces, backed by Russia, and loyalist militia launched a devastating assault more than a month ago to recapture the besieged enclave, killing more than 1,600 civilians.

They have recaptured more than 90 percent of the former opposition territories and laying siege to the last rebel-held pockets through negotiated withdrawals brokered by Russia.

Two such deals have already seen thousands of rebels, their relatives and other civilians bused out of bombed-out Ghouta districts to Idlib, a north-western province most of which still escapes regime control.

The largest numbers have quit the towns of Arbin and Zamalka, and the adjacent district of Jobar, all controlled by the Faylaq al-Rahman. 

The group reached a deal with Moscow on Friday and its implementation began the following morning with nearly 1,000 people boarding buses and leaving. 

The numbers have grown steadily since, with the biggest convoy yet departing in the early hours of Tuesday with more than 6,700 people aboard

They arrived Tuesday afternoon to the Qalaat al-Madiq area of central Hama province, a staging ground frequently used in such deals, AFP's correspondent there said. 

That convoy brought the total number of evacuees from areas under Faylaq al-Rahman's control to 13,165 people.

The group's spokesman, Wael Alwan, has said as many as 30,000 people could be evacuated in all.

The evacuations were continuing on Tuesday, with more than a dozen buses entering the Faylaq-controlled pocket, said state news agency SANA

Late Monday, rebels released 28 prisoners to the regime.

However, tens if not hundreds of thousands languish in the Assad regime's abominable prisons. The government has refused to negotiate any mass prisoner release despite pressure from the UN.

According to a 2017 report from the Amnesty International, Syrian authorities executed between 5,000 and 13,000 prisoners between 2011 and 2015.

The US State Department, citing satellite photos, said the same year that authorities had built a crematorium to hide the scope of the killings. 

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