Syrian army removes barriers as prelude to rebel evacuation from Harasta

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The evacuation agreement was supposed to kick off, in terms of the actual evacuation of civilians and the rebels, at 7:00 a.m. (050 GMT), but was pushed back for several hours and the evacuees will depart in two batches.

When rebels captured Harasta in early 2012, the road was highly threatened with snipers, which pushed the people to take a longer road around the capital in the western part to reach central and northern Syria from Damascus.

A day earlier, a total of 50 rebels surrendered to the Syrian army after evacuating the Harasta city, the War Media, the media wing of the Syrian army, said.

The evacuation comes also as the Syrian forces completely besieged Harasta, after advancing in Eastern Ghouta and splitting that region into three parts, one of which was Harasta.

The surrendering rebels reached the humanitarian corridor established recently by the Syrian army near the Water Resources facility in Harasta, said the report.

According to Xinhua reporter at the site, Red Crescent vehicles have also started moving into Harasta for the evacuation of the wounded as part of the agreement that will see the departure of 1,50 rebels and 6,000 civilians of their families toward rebel-held areas in northern Syria.

Harasta overlooks the main international road connecting the capital Damascus with central and northern Syria.

The pro-government al-Watan online newspaper said on Wednesday the Ahrar al-Sham rebels could leave Harasta soon after declaring the acceptance of their evacuation.

The civilians, who are not wishing to go with the rebels, will remain in Harasta, a key bastion of the Ahrar al-Sham group.

The evacuees will leave toward rebel-held areas in the northwestern province of Idlib, the report added.

The evacuation of the rebels from Harasta will mark the first major departure of rebels from Eastern Ghouta area after thousands of civilians fled several towns and areas in that sprawling countryside in recent days.

DAMASCUS, March 22 (Xinhua) -- The Syrian army on Thursday removed barriers at the entrance of the rebel-held area of Harasta east of the capital Damascus as a prelude to the evacuation of 1,50 militants, according to the state TV and Xinhua reporter.

Also Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said as many as 140 families evacuated Harasta toward government-controlled areas in Damascus after a corridor was opened between both areas.