DAMASCUS, SYRIA (1:05 P.M.) – On Monday morning, the first government busses arrived at two embattled suburbs in east Damascus to prepare an evacuation of jihadist militants.
Due to a series of rapid Syrian Arab Army (SAA) advances over the week, rebel commanders agreed to capitulate Al-Qaboun and Barzeh in return for safe passage to the Islamist heartland of Idlib. A truce came into effect on Sunday after prolonged negotiations.
With the SAA’s 4th Mechanized Division and 105th Brigade of the Republican Guard set to take over, thousands of militants, affiliated family members and activists will leave the Syrian capital in the near future.
The exact number of evacuees is yet to be disclosed although some 8,000 militants and non-combattants are said to be part of the agreement. The first batch involves 1,500 people while the militants may only take their light weaponry with them.
Brigadier General Ali Mahmoud and Colonel Ghayath Galla began their offensive to liberate the Al-Qaboun and Barzeh neighborhoods in February after Islamist commanders refused to evacuate at the time. Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham, the Free Syrian Army and Ahrar Al-Sham previously shared control of the area.
Al-Qaboun and Barzeh represent one of just three rebel pockets around Damascus. Once restored under government control, the capital will be safer than any time since 2012. More pictures of buses arriving to the residential area and residents preparing to leave: