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Evacuated Ghouta rebels from Arbin arrive in northern Syria Open in fullscreen

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Evacuated Ghouta rebels from Arbin arrive in northern Syria

Rebels arrive in the village of Qalaat al-Madiq, north of Hama [Getty]

Date of publication: 25 March, 2018

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Scores of Syrian Faylaq al-Rahman rebels are arriving in Hama, after being evacuated from Eastern Ghouta's Arbin, leaving only one town under rebel control in the besieged Damascus enclave.

The first convoy of residents of a ravaged pocket of Syria's Eastern Ghouta arrived in rural Hama on Sunday morning, al-Araby al-Jadeed reported.

Syrians had been preparing on Sunday for a new round of evacuations from the rebel enclave near Damascus, as Assad’s regime take back swathes of opposition-held territory.

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 villages in Hama, a rebel-dominated part of northern Syria.

The withdrawal of the penultimate rebel-held pocket of Eastern Ghouta leaves only the town of Douma under control of rebel group Jaish al-Islam. However they too are expecting an evacuation deal amid ongoing negotiations.

Jaish al-Islam's commander, based in Daraa in southern Syria, remained defiant in the face of the evacuations.

"The presence of mujahideen (fighters) near the capital is a victory for the Syrian revolution," he said in a statement as reported by al-Araby al-Jadeed.

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

Since 18 February, the Syrian regime 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. Assad's regime prevented food and medical aid reaching the besieged enclave for weeks on end.

Syrian state media says at least 107,000 civilians have "fled", that comes amid 'apocolyptic' conditions caused by relentless bombardment with little food or medicine. 

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 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.

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