Big win for Assad as last rebel group in Ghouta pulls out

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With the battle for Eastern Ghouta effectively over, the Syrian government is shifting its focus eastward, into the Qalamoun mountains, where small numbers of rebels remain about 40 km away from the capital city, in the area not far from the Lebanese border.

Rebel group Jaish al-Islam, which has not confirmed any deal with the Syrian government over eastern Ghouta, released five prisoners on Wednesday as part of a deal over Douma, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and state media said.

On Monday, more than 600 people evacuated the town on buses sent by the government and the Syrian Red Crescent to take them to Jarablus, a northern Syrian town controlled by Turkish troops and allied Syrian forces.

A military source told Reuters on Monday that some elements of Jaish al-Islam were still rejecting a deal and that military force would be used if they refused to accept one.

These include more than 1,000 people - fighters from another faction, Faylaq al-Rahman, and family members - who left Douma late Sunday, according to regime media.

Assad, who has military support from Iran and Russian Federation, now controls the bulk of Syria, though it may be hard for him to recover much more territory without risking a collision with other foreign powers that have forces inside the country. The source said on Tuesday the government had set a deadline for militants to leave Douma, without saying how long.

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The Army of Islam did not agree to leave the town, said Iyad Abdelaziz, a member of Douma's current local council.

Local activists say over 100,000 civilians are trapped inside Douma, which has suffered catastrophic damage.

But there is skepticism over the state-run reports because representatives of Jaish al-Islam have told CNN and said on social media they have been negotiating with the Russians, ally of the Assad regime, and are trying to reach a deal that allows them to stay in Douma. Iran has backed Assad throughout the civil war, while Turkey has cast itself as a sponsor of the opposition, along with the Arab Gulf countries. He said Turkey was also participating in the talks.

Militants left the area after Russian-brokered agreements on daily humanitarian ceasefires and deals made between militants and Syrian government forces.

Turkey, with support from rebels, is running its own military operations against a USA -backed Kurdish militia in northern Syria, which controls territory along the frontier.

"For sure this is not in our interest", he said in a series of messages. That is close to the Jordanian border and a US military base.

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