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Southwest Syria Sees New Evacuations   07/21 09:16

   BEIRUT (AP) -- A new group of rebels and their families began evacuating 
Saturday from the country's southwest, activists and Syrian media said, where 
the government has gained new ground in its ongoing offensive.

   The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 25 buses arrived 
at a crossing point to evacuate rebels who refused to accept the government's 
return to areas they had controlled for years. The government-affiliated 
Central Military Media also reported on the evacuation, a day after the first 
group left to the northern province of Idlib, where the opposition still holds 
sway.

   Rami Abdurrahman, head of the Observatory, said around 4,000 people are 
expected to be evacuated in total, in accordance with the deal reached that saw 
rebels surrender villages and towns in the southwestern region amid a military 
offensive.

   The U.N. and human rights organizations have condemned the evacuations as 
forced displacement. More than half of Idlib's population of two million is of 
displaced Syrians from other parts of the country, following similar military 
offensives and evacuations.

   Over the last month, government forces aided by Russian air power have swept 
through southwestern Syria to consolidate government control over this 
strategic corner of the country that straddles the border with Jordan and the 
frontier with Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

   With its new advances, government forces are, for the first time since the 
civil war began in 2011, restoring their positions along the disengagement line 
on the frontier with Israel, part of a cease-fire agreement reached in 1974 
between the two countries formally still at war.

   Also Saturday, the government continued targeting the Yarmouk Basin, the 
lower tip of the southwestern region where an Islamic State-affiliated group 
still holds territory. The group is not party to the agreement between the 
government and rebels.

   The Observatory said government forces pounded the Yarmouk Basin with over 
120 airstrikes and other missiles, amid clashes. The IS-affiliated group has 
taken advantage of the rebels' defeats, gaining new territory in Daraa province.


(KA)

 
 
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