Dozens are evacuated from Eastern Ghouta as rebels promise to continue their fight
Posted March 13, 2018 8:26 a.m. EDT
(CNN) — As many as 100 civilians, including 35 in need of medical attention, were evacuated from the besieged rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta to the Syrian capital on Tuesday, according to an armed group and state media.
Syrian state TV broadcast footage showing families disembarking from a bus and a van at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Damascus. One woman, who could hardly walk, was seen boarding an ambulance.
"They are killing us. The situation is very bad. They killed us from hunger and they pressure us. They destroyed us, destroyed the country, destroyed our children," said one man at the Wafideen crossing, opened for safe passage from the region, which is home to approximately 400,000 people.
More than 1,000 people were killed -- an average of 71 per day -- and 4,800 wounded in the first two weeks of the offensive, humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), said last week.
An agreement to begin evacuating the wounded was reached with Russia through the mediation of the UN on Monday, according to a statement from rebel group Jaish al-Islam. Yasser Delwan, the head of the political bureau for the armed rebel group, told CNN that a second convoy of evacuees was expected tomorrow.
Delwan was previously quoted by CNN using his nom de guerre Abo Ammar Alwan.
The evacuations come after the Syrian regime and its allies splintered Eastern Ghouta into three parts following a weekend of intensified fighting and rapid advances.
Syrian regime forces dealt major setbacks by cutting off Douma, the largest city in Eastern Ghouta and the main rebel supply route, as well as isolating the town of Harasta from the rest of the enclave.
State media reported on Sunday that "army units have completely cut off supply routes and movement lines of terrorist organizations between the northern and southern parts of Ghouta, which should accelerate the defeat of terrorists in the area."
Analysts believe it is now a matter of time before the regime takes control of the entire enclave, one of the last major rebel-held areas in the country, which is situated on the outskirts of Damascus.
But Jaish Al-Islam, responding to local reports that it was negotiating an exit with the Syrian government, has vowed to continue its fight against the regime.
Hamza Bayraqdar, Jaish Al-Islam's chief military spokesman, said in a video statement posted online that "we are holding our ground here. We are fighting and we will continue to fight. God willing, the regime will not be able to come in."