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Largest Syrian rebel group starts leaving Damascus enclave

Syrians arrive in Qalaat al-Madiq, Syria, after their evacuation from Douma, a former stronghold of the rebel forces opposing President Bashar Assad.AFP/Getty Images

BEIRUT — The most powerful Syrian opposition faction on the fringes of Damascus began abandoning its stronghold in the enclave of eastern Ghouta on Monday, opening the way for government forces to secure full control of the area,after seven years of revolt.

The first fighters from the Army of Islam left the town of Douma around midday as part of an evacuation deal that will hand the town to the Syrian government, the state news agency SANA reported.

The rebels were headed to Jarablus, a town in northern Syria where control of the territory is shared between Syrian rebels and Turkish forces.


The Syrian government dispatched more than 50 buses to Douma to take the rebels and their families out, the news agency reported.

Rami Abdurrahman, the Observatory’s director, said some factions within the Army of Islam oppose evacuating and surrendering Douma to the government of President Bashar Assad.

The deal over Douma would mark the end of a push by Assad’s forces to consolidate their control over eastern Ghouta, just outside the capital.

Douma was one of the earliest centers of the antigovernment demonstrations that swept through the country in March 2011. Syrian government forces responded by putting the town and other suburbs around Damascus under siege, bombing hospitals and residential areas, and blocking the entry of food and medical relief.