Syrians await new evacuations from second-to-last rebel zone in Ghouta


Arbin (Syria) (AFP)

Residents of a ravaged pocket of Syria's Eastern Ghouta were preparing Sunday for a new round of evacuations from the rebel enclave near Damascus, AFP's correspondent said.

Hundreds of rebels, their relatives and other civilians left a string of towns late Saturday after Faylaq al-Rahman, the rebel faction that controls the area around Arbin, agreed to a negotiated withdrawal.

The deal is expected to see some 7,000 people bussed from Arbin and Zamalka towns and the district of Jobar to a rebel-dominated part of northern Syria.

Arbin residents on Sunday morning were packing whatever they could in anticipation of a new round of evacuations, an AFP correspondent there said.

But buses expected to transport the evacuees to Idlib province had not yet arrived, and it was unclear what time the process would start.

Since February 18, the Syrian government has waged a fierce air and ground assault on Eastern Ghouta, capturing more than 90 percent of the onetime rebel bastion.

At least 1,600 civilians have been killed in the onslaught, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

Syrian state media says at least 107,000 civilians have fled.

Damascus is now using settlements negotiated by regime backer Russia to clear the last three rebel-held pockets of Ghouta.

A first deal saw the withdrawal of hardline Islamist rebels Ahrar al-Sham from the town of Harasta last week.

The second agreement, with Faylaq al-Rahman, was announced on Friday and evacuations began the following evening.

Talks are also underway for a deal over the third and final rebel-held pocket of Ghouta, which is held by Jaish al-Islam and includes the largest town in the area, Douma.