Syria: Fighters begin leaving Ghouta's last rebel-held town

Trump says US will leave Syria 'very soon' — despite his promises not to telegraph military moves

The agreement brokered by government ally Russian Federation would see fighters with the Jaish al-Islam rebel faction leave Ghouta's main town of Douma for opposition territory in northern Syria, state media and a monitoring group said.

Twenty buses carrying 1,065 Jaish al-Islam fighters and their families left Douma for Al-Wafideen Crossing on Monday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said the deal provides for Jaish al-Islam fighters and their families, as well as civilians who want, to head to Jarabulus and the town of Al-Bab, both held by pro-Turkey rebels.

It was the first organized evacuation of fighters from Douma, one of the earliest centers of the anti-government demonstrations that swept through the country in 2011.

Hamza Berakdar, spokesperson for Jaish al-Islam, said on Saturday that the armed opposition in Douma refused to leave in what he called a forced displacement.

A Syrian military source was quoted as saying that some of the fighters were rejecting the deal.

Eastern Ghouta, a 105-square-km agricultural region consisting of several towns and farmlands, poses the last threat to the capital due to its proximity to government-controlled neighborhoods east of Damascus and ongoing mortar attacks that target residential areas in the capital, pushing people over the edge.

If American troops withdraw, the Kurds will have to fend for themselves against Turkish forces, who they are fighting in northern Syria.

Rebels have left behind a labyrinth of tunnels under Eastern Ghouta, fitted with hospitals and military headquarters, and some of them wide enough to drive a vehicle through.

A local council for Douma would be formed with the approval of the central government, said the government-linked Central Military Media outlet.

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"There is still a hardline wing in Jaish al-Islam that refuses the deal", Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Yevtushenko said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies that a total of 30,376 people have left Douma since Wednesday.

Two other administration officials confirmed a Wall Street Journal report on Friday that said Trump had ordered the State Department to freeze more than $200 million in funds for recovery efforts in Syria while his administration reassesses Washington's role in the conflict there. There was no comment from the Army of Islam.

"Jaish al Islam has taken the decision to remain steadfast and the idea of leaving is not on the table", said the official.

He added, however, that "humanitarian cases" would be allowed to evacuate on Monday.

Dozens if not hundreds of residents are believed to require care for war wounds and medical conditions exacerbated by the siege of the town. The Syrian government says the Israeli regime and its Western and regional allies are aiding Takfiri terrorist groups that are wreaking havoc in the country.

Ahmad Ramadan, a prominent opposition figure in exile, told the Saudi TV channel al-Arabiya that the Army of Islam was still engaged in talks with Russian Federation over the future of the town.

Faylaq al-Rahman did not have a significant presence in the Douma.

A final deal appeared to have been reached Sunday for fighters and civilians to leave the last opposition-held area of Eastern Ghouta, paving the way for Syria's regime to retake all of the one-time rebel enclave near Damascus.

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