Rebels set to abandon bastion near Syrian capital

Syrian official news agency SANA shows Syrian government forces overseeing the evacuation by buses of the Army of Islam fighters and their families from the besieged town of Douma just east of Damascus Syria Monday April 2

Syrian official news agency SANA shows Syrian government forces overseeing the evacuation by buses of the Army of Islam fighters and their families from the besieged town of Douma just east of Damascus Syria Monday April 2

Russia's military says a preliminary agreement has been reached on the withdrawal of fighters of the Army of Islam rebel group from the eastern Ghouta suburbs of Syria's capital, Damascus.

Fighters from the Faylaq al-Rahman group left Douma on buses sent by the Syrian government to the rebel-held province of Idlib, SANA state news agency reported.

Douma, which is the last rebel-held area in Eastern Ghouta, is controlled by the Islam Army.

Jihadists from the Islamic State group have killed at least 19 pro-government fighters in a spate of attacks in eastern Syria, a monitoring group said Sunday.

The fall of Eastern Ghouta caps weeks of airstrikes and bombardment by the Syrian government and its Russian allies against an area that had been the source of near-daily - and sometimes deadly - shelling on Damascus. Once Army of Islam leaves Ghouta, the opposition would be left with most of Idlib, Daraa in southwest Syria and parts of the northern suburbs of Homs. Syrian activists say the group has told them it is determined to remain in Douma.

Monday marks the second consecutive day of rebel evacuations from the town of Douma.

The government has given rebels in Douma — the area's largest town and stronghold of the powerful Army of Islam rebel group — an ultimatum to agree on leaving by late Saturday.

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It was the first organized evacuation of fighters from Douma, which has held out against government forces through 7 years of war.

Syria's war has killed more than 350,000 people and displaced millions since starting in 2011 with a brutal repression of anti-regime protests. More than 120,000 others fled their homes and sought safety with the government, according to Russia's military operation in Syria.

The rebels are also coming under intense pressure from the estimated 70,000 civilians trapped inside Douma who are desperate for the fighting to end, our correspondent adds.

On Sunday, the Syrian government-linked Central Military Media outlet said that once the evacuations are completed, a local council for Douma would be formed with the approval of the central government.

Russia, a key ally of President Bashar al-Assad, was behind the main battle plan, directing elite forces and militias on the ground and calling in air strikes from Syrian and Russian warplanes, two Western intelligence sources based in the region told Reuters this week.

The government was not party to the negotiations over Douma, which were conducted between Russian Federation and the Army of Islam. They say withdrawing the almost 2,000 US troops too early would leave the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in a lurch.

Turkey, with the support of allied Syrian opposition forces, is carrying out its own military operations in northern Syria, against a US -allied Kurdish militia.

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