Syrian rebel fighters evacuated from Eastern Ghouta ride in a bus arriving at a government-held area at the entrance of Harasta on the outskirts of Damascus, on March 25, 2018. / AFP / LOUAI BESHARA
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A new group of Syrian rebels and civilians prepared to leave Eastern Ghouta Monday after the largest exodus yet from the opposition enclave, as talks stalled over the final pocket of resistance.Five weeks since government troops launched a ferocious offensive on Ghouta, they hold more than 90 percent of the long-besieged opposition stronghold on the doorstep of Damascus.A convoy of more than 5,400 fighters and civilians left a pocket of territory held by Islamist rebel group Faylaq al-Rahman late Sunday and reached northwest Syria the following day.It was the single largest one-day evacuation yet from Eastern Ghouta, after nearly 1,000 people were bussed out from the same area on Saturday. The government has repeatedly used such "reconciliation deals" to recapture territory lost during Syria's seven-year war.The first agreement, with hardline Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham, saw more than 4,500 people including rebels leave the town of Harasta last week.Unlike the others, that deal could see Jaish al-Islam remain in Douma.Some 200,000 people, including many who fled other parts of Ghouta, are estimated to remain in the town.
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