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Russia offers rebels safe passage out of eastern Ghouta

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The Russian military has offered Syrian rebels safe passage out of eastern Ghouta, setting out a proposal to let the opposition surrender its last major stronghold near Damascus to President Bashar al-Assad.

The Russian defense ministry said rebels could leave with their families and personal weapons through a secure corridor out of eastern Ghouta, where Moscow-backed government forces have made rapid gains in a fierce assault.

The Russian proposal did not specify where the rebels would go, but the terms echo previous deals under which insurgents have ceded ground to Assad and been given safe passage to other opposition-held territory near the Turkish border.

"The Russian Reconciliation Centre guarantees the immunity of all rebel fighters who take the decision to leave eastern Ghouta with personal weapons and together with their families," said the defense ministry statement.

Vehicles would "be provided, and the entire route will be guarded," it added.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed in the besieged enclave of satellite towns and rural areas on the outskirts of Damascus in one of the fiercest bombing campaigns of the 7-year-old civil war.

The United Nations believes 400,000 people are trapped inside the enclave where food and medical supplies were already running out before the assault began with intense air strikes two weeks ago.

Damascus and Moscow have pressed on with the campaign despite a UN Security Council call for a ceasefire, arguing that the rebel fighters they are targeting are members of banned terrorist groups who are not protected by the truce.

Assad said on Sunday the Syrian army would continue the push into eastern Ghouta, which government forces have encircled since 2013. Many civilian residents have fled from the frontlines into the town of Douma.

For the rebels fighting to oust Assad, the loss of eastern Ghouta would mark their worst defeat since the battle of Aleppo in late 2016. Rebel shelling on Damascus has killed dozens of people during the last two weeks, state-run media has said.



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