Syria rebels, civilians leave penultimate Ghouta pocket

Fighting in Ghouta despite rebel ceasefire attempt: monitor

The last batch of rebels and their families have evacuated the city of Harasta in Syrian capital Damascus' Eastern Ghouta countryside on Friday, leaving the city empty of rebels, according to the state TV.

The government has implemented a "leave or die" strategy to retake Ghouta, reducing swathes of it to rubble with air strikes and artillery fire but keeping open the offer of evacuation.

Late on Thursday, the Faylaq al-Rahman group which controls the southern pocket that includes Arbin, said a ceasefire had been agreed from midnight (2200 GMT) to allow negotiations with Russian Federation for an evacuation deal.

The evacuations from the towns of Zamalka, Arbin and Ain Tarma had been scheduled to begin Saturday morning, but the buses designated for the operation did not enter until the afternoon.

Insurgents in one of those pockets - the town of Harasta - began withdrawing in a convoy of buses for opposition territory in northwestern Syria on Thursday.

The ceasefire announcement came after air strikes killed 38 people in Arbin and Zamalka, another town controlled by Faylaq al-Rahman, earlier on Thursday, the Observatory said.

Eastern Ghouta was the opposition's final stronghold on the edge of Damascus, but beleaguered rebels are now left with less than 10 percent of their one-time bastion.

Putin has ordered daily five-hour ceasefires and the creation of a "humanitarian corridor" to allow civilians to leave Eastern Ghouta.

It has been marked by tactics the army and its ally Russian Federation have increasingly used to crush resistance - lay siege to an area, bombard it, launch a ground assault and finally offer the rebels and their families safe passage to the northwest.

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In his annual report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Zeid Raad al-Hussein said the government's actions in the area were "legally and morally unsustainable", while warning the next nightmare for Syrian civilians would inevitably arrive soon.

Assad and his allies say their offensive in eastern Ghouta is necessary to end the rule of Islamist militants over the area's people, and to stop them shelling government areas.

It was the first time in weeks that so many people were seen outside.

The first deal brokered by Russian Federation was reached with the hardline Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham for the town of Harasta.

Syrian State news agency SANA says over 4,000 left on Friday.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said on Tuesday that it has received several allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria's Eastern Ghouta enclave, though admitted a thorough investigation of the claims will be hard.

The Observatory estimates that in all, about 120,000 civilians have either left the enclave or remained in the towns of Kafr Batna and Saqba, which were re-taken by the government in the past eight days.

Student Layal al-Jumaa lives in a neighborhood that overlooks Harasta, and woke up Saturday after a full night's sleep uninterrupted by bombardment.

In the capital Damascus, a mortar shell hit the Fayhaa soccer stadium, killing footballer Samir Massoud, who used to play for the Army Club, and wounding six other people.

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