Assad regime forces have retaken control of most of eastern Ghouta, near the capital Damascus, following a major offensive and evacuation deals, regime media and an independent monitor reported on Saturday.
The regime army said in a statement that its forces had recaptured several towns and villages in eastern Ghouta after a “series of battles against terrorists.”
The army vowed military action against Douma, the enclave’s last town that is still under opposition control.
In the statement carried by Syria’s regime news agency SANA, the army said that its “victory” in eastern Ghouta restores full security to Damascus and its surroundings, and secures major roads between the capital and other parts of the country.
SANA said 38 buses left the towns of Zamalka, Ein Tarma, Arbeen and Jobar taking more than 1,700 opposition fighters and civilians to the northwestern opposition-held province of Idlib. The channel said regime troops entered the towns and raised the national flag in Arbeen’s main square.
Last month, forces of Bashar al-Assad started a massive operation aimed at expelling opposition fighters from besieged eastern Ghouta.
Regime TV said 38,000 fighters and civilians have already headed to Idlib over the past two weeks marking one of the largest displacements since Syria’s conflict began seven years ago. More than 100,000 others headed to regime-controlled areas over the past weeks.
Before the last wave of violence began in eastern Ghouta last month, the U.N. had estimated that some 393,000 people were living in the area under a tight regime siege.
Tens of thousands of opposition fighters and civilians have been relocated to Idlib over the past years from different parts of Syria making it one of the most inhabited regions in the country.
The top U.N. official in Syria, Ali Al-Za’tari, told the Dubai-based al-Arabiya TV in an interview aired Saturday that “Idlib cannot take more people.”
Assad’s forces are now in control of around 94 per cent of eastern Ghouta, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor based in Britain, reported Saturday.
The war monitor also said that a vehicle carrying evacuees from eastern Ghouta had a road accident in the regime-held village of Nahr al-Bared leaving five fighters and three civilians dead. It said the bus had left eastern Ghouta Friday night.
Negotiations were under way between the Russian military and the Jaish al-Islam opposition faction, which controls Douma, the watchdog added.
The Observatory also added that regime troops have been massing troops around Douma in case negotiations collapse.
The full recapture of eastern Ghouta will mark the biggest victory for the Assad regime since December 2016, when his forces regained complete control of the northern city of Aleppo from the opposition following a Russian-backed offensive.