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Eastern Ghouta's rebels agree to evacuate imprisoned Nusra fighters

11 March 2018

The Syrian army advanced on Saturday (10 March) into eastern Ghouta, the last major rebel stronghold near the capital Damascus.

Hamza Birqadar, a spokesman for Jaish al-Islam, one of the two main insurgent groups in Eastern Ghouta, said rebels had repelled the attack on Mesraba and neither Harasta nor Douma were cut off.

The Syrian government's two-week onslaught in eastern Ghouta has killed around 950 civilians, the war monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

On Friday a United Nations convoy was able to successfully deliver aid to the area, after previous deliveries were halted by shelling.

Russian Federation and the Syrian government say the other rebel groups have worked with H.T.S. and so are fair game for attacks.

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Russia, a main backer of President Bashar Assad, had offered a safe passage to opposition fighters who surrender in eastern Ghouta.

More than 1,000 people have been killed in the last two weeks of violence in eastern Ghouta, which borders the capital Damascus, according to Médecins sans Frontières, which has gathered data from hospitals in the area that it supports.

The Syrian army is making steady advances in the enclave, but it is facing a hostile West, which is threatening airstrikes to stop the push. The Syrian government, through the SANA state news agency, denied using chemical weapons.

State TV said 13 fighters and their families had arrived at the crossing point.

Keen to secure Damascus, government troops and allied militias have been closing in on the enclave since February 18 and have overrun more than half of it.

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While ICRC officials expect this latest convoy to successfully deliver its cargo, humanitarian organisations say it is not almost enough aid for the estimated 400,000 people trapped in the area.

"After the opening of an additional checkpoint in the direction of Jisrein-Mlekha area, the Syrian side has registered increased number of clashes between the civilians and the militants who are blocking the exits from the area", Zolotukhin told reporters.

Hundreds of thousands of residents are still thought to live in the Eastern Ghouta, seven years into the civil war.

The roads connecting the towns to each other were all covered by army fire, the observatory said. Kurdish fighters insist the Turkish military has not yet besieged Afrin.

The YPG denies any direct organisational links to the PKK - an assertion backed by the U.S., which has provided the militia and allied Arab fighters with weapons and air support to help them battle the jihadist group Islamic State (IS).

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Eastern Ghouta's rebels agree to evacuate imprisoned Nusra fighters