Eastern Ghouta's rebels agree to evacuate imprisoned Nusra fighters

Eastern Ghouta's rebels agree to evacuate imprisoned Nusra fighters
Jaish al-Islam says it has agreed to evacuate Nusra Front fighters being held in its prisons in besieged eastern Ghouta to rebel-held Idlib province.
2 min read
10 March, 2018
A first group of fighters will be evacuated from the Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta, the target of a devastating and ongoing regime assault, one of the rebel factions that controls it announced on Friday.

Fighters from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a group made up mostly of al-Qaeda's ex-affiliate al-Nusra Front, are to be evacuated to the northern province of Idlib, Jaish al-Islam said in a statement published on Twitter.

It said the initiative was "based on consultations between Jaish al-Islam and the United Nations, and a number of international actors."

"After our meeting today with the delegation which entered Ghouta accompanying the aid convoy, an agreement was reached to evacuate the first batch of HTS members present in the prisons of Jaish al-Islam who had been detained during security operation that Jaish al-Islam began on 28 April, 2017," read the statement from the group's leadership, dated Friday.

"It has been agreed that they be moved to Idlib at their request," the statement added.

Mohammad Alloush, one of Jaish al-Islam's leaders, told pan-Arab television channel al-Arabiya al-Hadath on Friday that there are no more than "a few hundred" Nusra fighters  in Eastern Ghouta, Reuters reported.

Despite two weeks of airstrikes and artillery bombardment described as "an apocalypse" that has killed almost 950 civilians, the main rebel groups have so far rejected Russian-brokered offers to evacuate civilians or any of their own fighters.

The main groups had said on February 27 they would be willing to expel fighters from the enclave as soon as a UN ceasefire took effect.

Eastern Ghouta, which lies just east of Damascus, is home to some 400,000 civilians and is controlled by myriad armed groups. The main forces are Islamist groups - Jaish al-Islam, Faylaq al-Rahman and Ahrar al-Sham.