Syria rebels say deal reached to evacuate Ghouta town


Beirut (AFP)

A hardline Syrian rebel faction said Wednesday it had agreed with the regime to evacuate a bombed-out town in the Eastern Ghouta enclave near Damascus.

It is the first deal reached in Ghouta for a mass exit of rebels and civilians since Syrian government troops launched an offensive on the enclave a month ago.

"The deal between the regime and rebels in Harasta sees rebels exiting the city with their weapons, and whichever civilians want to leave, to northern Syria with Russian guarantees," said Munzer Fares, spokesman for the Ahrar al-Sham group in Ghouta.

"The departure of families that want to leave to northern Syria will start at 7:00 am (0500 GMT) tomorrow," Fares told AFP.

Ahrar al-Sham holds most of Harasta, which lies in the western part of Ghouta, but regime troops maintained a presence in part of it.

Government forces have closed in on the town as part of their offensive on the broader Ghouta region, once the opposition's main bastion on the outskirts of the Syrian capital.

Syrian troops have recaptured 80 percent of Ghouta and have sought to oust rebels from the remaining pockets through a blend of military pressure and negotiations.

Syrian reconciliation minister Ali Haidar had earlier told AFP that negotiations on a withdrawal from Harasta were under way between Ahrar al-Sham and Russia, a key regime ally.

He said the Syrian government was not directly involved in the talks but would be "ready to implement" any agreement.

Last week, Ahrar al-Sham said it would be willing to hold direct talks with Russia on a ceasefire for Ghouta.