Russia says deal reached for rebels to exit Ghouta

Jaish Al Islam spokesman denies such a deal and says group refuses to leave the enclave

Moscow: Russia’s defence ministry said Friday an agreement had been reached on armed rebel groups leaving the main town in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta.

“Today an agreement has been reached with the leaders of illegal armed formations of fighters and their family members to leave the town of Douma shortly,” a senior defence ministry official, Sergei Rudskoi, said at a briefing, quoted on the defence ministry website.

But the fighters there quickly denied it.

“We categorically refuse leaving or being displaced,” said Jaish Al Islam’s spokesman Hamza Bayraqdar.

“That’s an essential demand of the negotiations. We have not reached an agreement yet,” he told AFP, adding that talks were ongoing.

Syrian regime ally Russia has played a crucial role in helping the government gain the upper hand against rebels being evacuated from Eastern Ghouta.

Moscow’s military personnel have also directly overseen evacuations of rebels and civilians from encircled opposition zones in the enclave.

Rudskoi said that so far “28,495 peaceful civilians have left via a humanitarian corridor opened in the area of the Al Wafideen settlement.”

Syrian troops and their allies launched their all-out assault on Eastern Ghouta on February 18, seeking to oust the armed opposition from its strategic perch on the edge of the capital.

More than 1,600 civilians have been killed in the assault, and tens of thousands of people have fled.

On Friday, hundreds more Syrian rebels and civilians prepared to leave Eastern Ghouta under a negotiated withdrawal, as Russia unilaterally announced a similar deal to empty the final pocket of the battered enclave.

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