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Syrian Rebels Evacuate Town In Eastern Ghouta Under Russian-Brokered Deal

Smoke billows following Syrian government bombardment on the rebel-held besieged town of Harasta, in eastern Ghouta.

Syrian rebels have withdrawn in busloads from a town in eastern Ghouta and handed it over to the Syrian Army under a Russian-brokered evacuation deal.

The Ahrar al-Sham group's decision to accept the army's terms and abandon the town of Harasta on March 22 puts the government on course for its biggest victory over rebels since the battle of Aleppo in 2016.

Around 30 buses carrying rebel fighters and their families left Harasta. Syrian state media said the buses carried 1,580 people, including 413 rebel fighters given safe passage to northwestern Syria.

A military media unit run by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's ally Hizballah said 1,500 fighters and 6,000 family members had agreed to leave.

The army's assault on eastern Ghouta, the last major rebel bastion near the capital, has been one of the most intense in Syria's seven-year war, killing more than 1,500 people in a relentless bombardment that has drawn condemnation from around the world.

In the Ghouta campaign, Syria and Russia have used tactics that proved successful in Aleppo and elsewhere: lay siege to an area, bombard it, launch a ground assault, and finally offer safe passage out to rebels who agree to leave with their families.

The government's control of Harasta leaves eastern Ghouta's rebels in control only of the town of Douma -- under the control of Jaish al-Islam -- and another pocket that includes the towns of Jobar, Ein Terma, Arbin, and Zamalka -- under the control of Failaq al-Rahman.

The Russian Defense Ministry claims that since Russia began imposing "humanitarian pauses" almost a month ago, some 95,000 people had left eastern Ghouta for government territory.

The Harasta rebels will be taken to Idlib Province in the northwest, which has become the main sanctuary for insurgents who agree to quit territory under deals with the government.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters