The foreign-backed militants have begun withdrawal from a key town in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta suburb after reaching a deal with the government, which is close to a full victory in the region.
Syrian state news agency SANA reported that vehicles and buses had crossed into Harasta on Thursday to start transporting the first batch of militants and their family members under the supervision of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
The government and the militants reached a deal on the evacuation of 1500 militants and 6000 of their family members in two batches to the militant-held areas in the northwestern province of Idlib.
The news agency further said that some 547 people, including 88 militants, have left the town so far.
The evacuation process followed the release of 13 soldiers and civilians attached to the Syrian army by the militants.
A Hezbollah media unit reported that the militants freed the 13 men, who were captured in the fighting for Harasta, in return for the release of five militants as part of the Harasta deal.
Monther Fares, a spokesman for the Ahrar al-Sham militant group, confirmed that his group’s militants were preparing to leave the town, adding that Russia was the guarantor of the agreement.
The deal, the first by Eastern Ghouta militants, is seen as a victory for the country in its fight against the foreign-backed terrorists, which can also serve as a blueprint for other towns in the region.
Harasta’s surrender leaves only Douma and another militant pocket in Eastern Ghouta that includes the towns of Jobar, Ein Terma, Arbin and Zamalka.
Army advances deep into Ghouta
Syria’s SANA news agency also said that the country’s army had managed to regain control of Ein Terma Valley in Eastern Ghouta on Thursday.
Over the past few weeks, Syria and Russia have cornered foreign-backed militants in Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, as part of their campaign to liberate civilians holed up there and end militant attacks from the suburb on the capital.
Russian Defense Ministry said more than 5,000 civilians left the region on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said some 4,000 people have fled the militant-held town of Douma since Wednesday.
On March 16, the Syrian army said its forces had regained the control of 70 percent of militant-held areas in Eastern Ghouta.
Eastern Ghouta fell to militants in 2012, months after Syria plunged into crisis, and has since served as a launch pad for fatal mortar attacks against residents and infrastructure in the capital. The region is controlled by a collection of militant groups, most notably the Takfiri terror groups of Jaish al-Islam and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, commonly known as al-Nusra Front.