#SyriaCrisis (Started few hours ago) First evacuation of rebels from Eastern Ghouta Damascus has started, according to @AFP correspondent and will be handed over to the government after 7-years of being under siege as rebels released 13-prisoners of war just ahead of the evacuation #AceNewsDesk reports

#AceNewsReport – Mar.22: Editor say this is what we know so far of the evacuation that started bussing people out of besieged areas: Syrian rebels and their families leave a besieged town in the eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus on Thursday, in an evacuation deal that will see the town handed over to the government following years of siege: Rebels released 13 prisoners of war ahead of the evacuation: The deal is the first such arrangement made for a town inside the beleaguered eastern Ghouta enclave, which has endured one month of relentless shelling and bombardment as the government, backed by its ally Russia, pushed to retake the area after seven years of revolt #AceNewsDesk reports

The agreement could serve as a blueprint for other towns in the enclave. Syrian rebels to leave key town in eastern Ghouta enclave: Syrian rebels and their families are expected to leave a besieged town in the eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, in an evacuation deal that will see the town handed over to the government following years of bombardment. Monther Fares, a spokesman for the rebel faction Ahrar al-Sham, says his group’s fighters are preparing to leave. He says fighters are waiting for buses to arrive to take them and their families to other rebel-held areas in north Syria. The government-controlled Military Media Center says 1,500 rebels and 6,000 civilians will leave Harasta on Thursday. The deal is modeled after others that have had rebels surrender swaths of territory around the capital and other major cities to the government: State-affiliated al-Ikhbariya TV cast the deal as a victory for the country. Its correspondent Rabieh Dibeh said 10 buses had crossed into the town of Harasta to transport the “terrorists” — as the government refers to all armed opposition fighters — to a rebel-held province in north Syria. The camera showed dozens more buses waiting to enter Harasta.

Critics say it is a formula for displacement that lets the state choose its citizenry — and expel those opposed to or fearful of President Bashar Assad’s authoritarian rule.

Some 6,000 civilians are expected to depart with the militants, some of them family members of the rebels and others activists, and other people afraid of the government’s vindictive security services. An unknown number of others have already been forced out of their homes or killed in the government’s ferocious campaigns against Harasta and eastern Ghouta leading up to the deal.

The United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross are not facilitating the evacuations; they are being done in conjunction with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

The deal is modeled after others that have had rebels surrender swaths of territory around the capital and other major cities to the government. In all cases, the arrangements followed indiscriminate campaigns by the government against hospitals, markets, and other civilian targets, driving thousands of civilians out of their homes.

Harasta appeared in ruins in a broadcast from al-Ikhbariya, and apartment blocks in the town looked gutted. Monther Fares, a spokesman for the rebel faction Ahrar al-Sham, confirmed that his group’s fighters were preparing to depart.

The government-controlled Military Media Center said 1,500 rebels and 6,000 civilians would leave Harasta on Thursday.

The 13 men released by the Syrian rebels ahead of the evacuation identified themselves to the media as soldiers and civilians attached to the Syrian army, who were captured by rebels in the fighting for Harasta. In the TV footage, many cried in relief, thanking God, the Syrian army, and President Assad for their freedom.

Al-Manar TV, which belongs to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, a key Assad ally, said the government released five “terrorists” to rebels, in exchange.

Fares said the rebels agreed to leave because of “civilian pressure” resulting from intensive airstrikes and “warplanes that do not leave the sky,” adding that residents of Harasta have spent the last three months inside shelters.

Russia, a military backer of Assad, was the guarantor of the deal, he said.

Also Thursday, civilians streamed out of another part of the eastern Ghouta, continuing a trend that has seen close to 50,000 people flee across lines to the government for safety.

The Russian military said more than 1,000 civilians left rebel-held suburbs of the Syrian capital Damascus on Thursday morning. Maj. Gen. Vladimir Zolotukhin told Russian news agencies in Syria the civilians left through the Wafideen crossing.

Syria: First evacuation of rebels from Eastern Ghouta has started, according to @AFP correspondent Syria https://t.me/liveuamap/3162 as Syria rebels begin Eastern Ghouta evacuation: government media https://t.me/syria_livenews/28910

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