Syrian Media Say Evacuations from Eastern Ghouta Increasing

The exodus of Syrian rebels and civilians from the eastern suburbs of Damascus continued on Tuesday for the sixth straight day in what is shaping up to be one of the largest organized population transfers in the country’s seven-year-long civil war, The Washington Post report.

The population moves, condemned by the United Nations as forced transfers of people, are the result of a Russia-negotiated evacuation deal between Syrian rebels and the government amid a relentless offensive by President Bashar Assad’s forces. More than 13,000 fighters, their family members, and other civilians have been bused out of a second pocket of the besieged eastern Ghouta region, Syrian state media said Tuesday.

The SANA news agency said 6,749 people, among them 1,620 fighters, were bused out of the towns of Arbeen, Ein Terma, Zamalka, and Jobar late on Monday. They followed 6,416 people who departed in the two previous days. Last week, 7,000 people were bused out of a separate pocket of eastern Ghouta.

They were taken to the rebel-held Idlib province in northwest Syria, where more than 1 million others have taken refuge from the violence that has engulfed the country. Living conditions in the camps there are abysmal, the U.N. and aid agencies say, and the province is exposed to regular Syrian government, Russian, and occasionally American airstrikes targeting markets, schools, hospitals, and bases for militants and al-Qaida-linked groups.

The evacuations are part of a deal between Russia and the Faylaq al-Rahman rebel group. The Syrian government now controls a vast majority of the besieged enclave outside the capital, Damascus, DW adds. The convoy comprising 100 buses carrying nearly 7,000 evacuated Syrian rebel fighters and civilians began leaving eastern Ghouta overnight, state media said on Tuesday. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the mass evacuation.

A quarter of those evacuated overnight were rebel fighters, the SANA state news agency said. The evacuees will be driven to rebel-held territory in northwestern Idlib province. Syrian government forces and allied militia have recaptured about 80 percent of the former rebel bastion since they launched a brutal offensive last month that has left hundreds of people dead and rendered many more homeless.

The town of Douma now remains the last rebel-held stronghold in the besieged enclave. The Russian military said on Monday it was close to reaching a deal with the Jaysh al-Islam, or Army of Islam, rebel group to arrange its exit.

Meanwhile, Anadolu Agency additionally reports that a fifth convoy of vehicles carrying civilians and opposition fighters from the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta arrived in the Hama province in west-central Syria on Tuesday. According to Anadolu Agency correspondents in Eastern Ghouta, some 122 buses and seven vehicles reached Hama, carrying 6,800 people.

The convoy is expected to head for temporary refugee centers set up in Idlib and Aleppo provinces in northwestern Syria. The first and second convoys evacuated people from the town of Harasta in the besieged district on Thursday. Evacuations also included the towns of Arbin, Zamalka, and Ein Tarma in the besieged region.