1st batch of rebels surrender Eastern Ghouta amid humanitarian delivery

The first batch of rebels have laid down their weapons in Eastern Ghouta region east of the Syrian capital Damascus and moved to a government-controlled crossing point, as humanitarian aid convoys entered that hotspot on Friday and delivered relief materials enough for 12,000 people.

After a long day of conflicting reports of civilians leaving Eastern Ghouta, a total of 13 rebels reached a designated humanitarian corridor in the Wafidin area northeast of Damascus, coming from the adjacent farms of Douma district in the rebel-held areas of Eastern Ghouta, according to the Syrian state TV.

The rebels were inspected before they got on a bus that will transport them to an unknown destination, but more likely to rebel-held areas in Idlib province in northwestern Syria.

In a live broadcast, the state TV showed the rebels sitting inside a bus, most of them bearded and many of them looked so young, with the presenter saying some of the rebels who surrendered are under 18 years old.

More batches are expected to leave in the near future, the TV said.

The small group's evacuation marks the first departure of rebels from Eastern Ghouta since the Russian-backed daily humanitarian pause in Eastern Ghouta went into effect on Feb. 27 following the adoption of the UN Security Resolution 2401, which was endorsed on Feb. 24 and called for a 30-day-long humanitarian cease-fire.

It also comes two days after the Russian military had offered the rebels in Eastern Ghouta a safe passage out, setting out a proposal to let the rebels surrender their last major stronghold on the eastern rim of Damascus.

Since Feb. 27, the five-hour-long humanitarian pause has passed day after day without any civilians leaving Eastern Ghouta, except for two instances when a Pakistani couple left as well as 15 women and children.

The Russian-backed pause aimed primarily at allowing the civilians to leave Eastern Ghouta, with Syrian helicopters dropping leaflets on daily basis to guide the people to safe routes to get to Wafidin area.

A day earlier, the Syrian authorities announced opening another humanitarian corridor in the Mlaiha area southeast of Damascus adjacent to the rebel-held town of Jisreen in Eastern Ghouta.

But no one has left, with the government accusing the rebels of firing on the crosspoint to "prevent" civilians from leaving.

Earlier on Friday, the state TV said the rebels fired explosive bullets on the Wafidin area to prevent people from leaving.

Amid the state of confusion at the crossing points, UN-backed humanitarian aid convoy entered Friday to Douma in Eastern Ghouta.

Inji Sedky, the spokeswoman of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told Xinhua that humanitarian aid convoys left Douma area on Friday afternoon after delivering aid shipment.

The 13 truckloads of aid that entered Douma have unloaded the shipment, Sedky said, adding that the trucks included 2,400 food parcels and 3,240 wheat flour bags enough for 12,000 people.

The 13 truckloads are part of the former 46 trucks that entered Douma a few days before but couldn't be unloaded at the time due to the situation on the ground, Sedky said.

At the time, activists said the 13 truckloads out for the 46 had to leave Douma due to government shelling, while the government said the rebels shelling hindered the full offload of the remaining trucks before they prepared again to enter Douma on Friday.

Meanwhile, the state TV in Syria said the rebels in Eastern Ghouta on Friday fired at the humanitarian corridor in the Wafidin area in northeastern Damascus, the same corridor the humanitarian convoy took to enter into Douma, while opposition activists said the Syrian shelling targeted Douma as the aid convoys were entering.

The UN humanitarian agencies have sounded the alarm about the worsening humanitarian situation for 400,000 people live in that region, where activists said over 800 people have been killed since late last month by the heavy bombardment and military showdown in areas of Eastern Ghouta.

The Syrian army has captured 52 percent of Eastern Ghouta in recent days, as part of an ongoing wide-scale offensive to dislodge the rebels from that key area on the eastern rim of Damascus.

Eastern Ghouta, a 105 square km agricultural region consisting of several towns and farmlands, poses the last threat to the capital due to its proximity to government-controlled neighborhoods east of Damascus and their ongoing mortar attacks that target residential areas in the capital, pushing people over the edge.

Four major rebel groups are currently positioned inside Eastern Ghouta, namely the Islam Army, Failaq al-Rahman, Ahrar al-Sham and the Levant Liberation Committee, otherwise known as the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.


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