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Evacuation of militants continues around Damascus

Militants and their families prepare to leave the town of Yalda on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus, on May 4, 2018. (AFP photo)

Militants are leaving three southern suburbs of Damascus in increasing numbers as the Syrian government continues to secure more areas around the capital.

Family members accompanied the militants, who were leaving Beit Sahm, Babila and Yalda neighborhoods on Saturday. Some 5,000 people need to be evacuated from those areas based on an agreement between militants and the government.

Buses were evacuating the people to Idlib, a province in Syria’s northwest which is mostly populated by anti-government groups.

The Syrian military has been engaged in liberation operations in territories around Damascus over the past months. An operation to purge militants from the southern neighborhoods of the capital began weeks ago when militants launched several rocket attacks on residential areas deep inside the city. The militants then gave in to the pressure from the government and agreed to a deal to hand over the areas in return for their safe evacuation to the north.

“Around 5,000 terrorists and their families are expected to leave, fulfilling an agreement reached on Sunday between the Syrian government and terrorist groups,” said a report by Syria’s official SANA agency on Thursday, when the evacuations started.

Since February, the Syrian army, backed by Russia, has been engaged in a major push to rid Damascus and the surrounding areas of terrorist groups.

In a significant victory early last month, the Syrian army managed to fully liberate Eastern Ghouta, which had long been controlled by militant groups and served as a launch pad for deadly rocket attacks against residents and civilian infrastructure in the capital.

The government has also sought to strike evacuation deals with the militants holed up in the suburban areas around the capital in a bid to decrease the fighting and protect the civilians caught up there. One such evacuation mechanism is also taking place in Yarmouk, an area south of Damascus and home to a sprawling Palestinian refugee camp, which has been controlled by the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group as well as militants with the so-called Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, al-Qaeda’s former affiliate in Syria.

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