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Rebels free five prisoners in Syria's eastern Ghouta

Rebels free five prisoners in Syria's eastern Ghouta

It represents the final chapter of the government's relentless offensive to fully retake the area after seven years of revolt.

The expected loss of Eastern Ghouta will deal Syria's fragmented rebels their biggest blow yet, leaving them unable to threaten President Bashar Assad in Damascus and increasingly subservient to competing global interests.

The militants headed to the rebel-held city of Jarablus in northern Syria near the Turkish border.

Syrian TV says the release of the five - four women and a man - is part of "efforts by the Syrian government to secure the release of all prisoners in Douma". By midday, only a handful had left for the north in three buses.

It is also unclear whether all of the Army of Islam fighters have agreed to leave and how long the evacuations will take.

The head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdurrahman, said the Army of Islam is divided over whether to evacuate Douma, with hard-liners demanding they stay and fight.

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A council member of Douma in Eastern Ghouta has said reports of a deal to surrender the opposition-controlled town to the Syrian government are not true.

"The network of tunnels connected ammunition warehouses under buildings places hard to identify for the Syrian air force", a military official said to SCMP. More than 120,000 others have fled their homes and sought safety with the government, according to Russia's military operation in Syria. Russian Federation and Iran have provided crucial support to President Bashar Assad's forces, while Turkey has backed the rebels seeking to overthrow him.

A Syrian military source was quoted as saying that some of the fighters were rejecting the deal. They included fighters from the Faylaq al-Rahman and Ahrar al-Sham rebel groups, their families and other residents.

The defence ministry said earlier on Wednesday that more than 3,000 rebels and their family members have evacuated Douma since Sunday.

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

Geneva: The UN humanitarian adviser for Syria called on Wednesday for access to the eastern Ghouta town of Douma, where he said some 80,000-150,000 civilians were "on their knees" after years of siege and fighting.

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