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Opposition fighters evacuated from Eastern Ghouta town

Syrian state media says hundreds of opposition fighters and families evacuated from Harasta and are heading to Idlib.

Hundreds of opposition fighters and their families have been evacuated from the town of Harasta in the eastern part of Syria's Eastern Ghouta, according to Syrian state media. 

Sana, the official Syrian news agency, said at least six buses carrying the evacuees are heading to Idlib province in Syria's north, which is an area under opposition control. 

The evacuation comes as part of a deal brokered on Wednesday by the Syrian government's principal ally, Russia, between fighters in Harasta and a Syrian government delegation. 

A member of the Harasta local council confirmed the news, but could not confirm the number of people evacuated. 

READ MORE: Evacuation deal for fighters in Eastern Ghouta town reached

The operation was facilitated by a United Nations delegation as well as the Syrian Red Crescent. 

The Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus - the capital, where the government of President Bashar al-Assad sits - has been under intense bombardment as the latter makes major advances to regain control over the area from the armed opposition. 

The territory has been under the control of armed opposition groups aiming to topple the Assad government since mid-2013. 

But with Russia's intervention in support of al-Assad in 2015, the government has been able to deal the opposition one defeat after another. 

Until recently, Eastern Ghouta was one of the last remaining rebel strongholds. In a renewed offensive by the government since February 18, the opposition lost large parts of it, with the Syrian army claiming it has now recaptured 80 percent of the suburb. 

'Civilian pressure' 

Munther Fares, a spokesperson for the Ahrar al-Sham armed opposition group operating in Harasta, said that his group had agreed to the evacuation deal due to "civilian pressure". 

"Due to the bombing and [government] siege and the lack of medicine and the lack of place to move," said Fares. 

According to the White Helmets, a voluntary rescue group operating in parts of rebel-controlled Syria, at least 1,252 documented civilians have been killed in the offensive on Eastern Ghouta since February 18, while more than 4,000 people have been wounded. 

The surrender of Harasta leaves only a few pockets in Eastern Ghouta under rebel control. Government forces having effectively split the area into three sections during their offensive. 

The Syrian government's campaign follows the pattern of previous assaults on rebel strongholds, deploying massive air power and tight sieges to force rebel fighters to accept "evacuation" deals.

These involve rebels surrendering territory in exchange for safe passage to opposition areas in northwestern Syria, along with their families and other civilians who do not want to come back under al-Assad's rule.

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