Eastern Ghouta's rebels agree to evacuate imprisoned Nusra fighters

Eastern Ghouta's rebels agree to evacuate imprisoned Nusra fighters

The government forces seized more than half of the area, including a stretch of farmland on Wednesday, effectively dividing the besieged enclave in two and further squeezing the rebels and tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside, state media and a war monitor reported.

The advance has split the region into three parts, isolating Douma, one of the biggest towns in the region and cutting-off another, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Rescue workers on Saturday pulled the bodies of 17 people, including members of three separate families - from under the rubble of destroyed buildings in Douma.

Mesraba lies just south of the large towns of Douma and Harasta, along the road linking them to the remaining southern area in the insurgent pocket.

Residents say they fear government retribution if they were to try and flee the area, or the possibility of being redrafted into the Syrian military and sent to fight on the frontline.

Last April, the USA struck a military base in central Syria with more than 50 Tomahawk missiles, in retaliation to an alleged chemical attack by Syrian government forces on a rebel-held town in the northwestern province of Idlib. With the help of Russia, President Bashar al-Assad has employed an offensive that includes relentless air strikes and tight sieges to pressure rebels into "evacuation deals".

Eastern Ghouta is so close to Damascus that it is possible for rebels to fire mortars into the heart of the capital, which has led to scores of civilian deaths.

A picture from Syrian state TV showing unidentified "fighters", evacuated from Eastern Ghouta.

According to the United Nations, some 400,000 people remain trapped in the area, which has been under siege for several years.

"If I thought about leaving Ghouta I would worry about the regime because there are no guarantees: and, second, I would worry about Jaish al-Islam, because they won't let us leave", said one activist in Douma.

However, U.N. agencies said most medical supplies had been stripped from the convoy by Syrian government officials and added that the food supplies brought in were insufficient. "It has been agreed that they be moved to Idlib at their request", Jaish al-Islam said.

Turkey-led rebels have been pressing an assault on the Kurdish enclave of Afrin since January 20.

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