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In Moscow, a senior Russian lawmaker said his country is willing to help arrange a visit this week for experts from the international chemical weapons watchdog, the Organization for the Protection of Chemical Weapons or OPCW, to the site of a suspected poison gas attack in Syria.
Eastern Ghouta, an early centre of the 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, was until last month the biggest and most populous remaining rebel stronghold near the capital.
More than 13,000 fighters, their family members, and other civilians have been bused out of a second pocket of the besieged eastern Ghouta region, Syrian state media said Tuesday.
Five weeks since the Syrian regime launched an all-out assault on Ghouta, it holds more than 90 percent of the onetime opposition stronghold on the edge of Damascus.
Harasta appeared in ruins in a broadcast from al-Ikhbariya, and apartment blocks in the town looked gutted. Monther Fares, a spokesman for the rebel faction Ahrar al-Sham, confirmed that his group’s fighters were preparing to depart.
“We are engaged in arranging serious negotiations to guarantee the safety and protection of civilians,” said Wael Alwan, the Istanbul-based spokesman for Failaq al-Rahman, in a voice recording.
The mass exit came as Syrians marked seven years since the popular uprising that sparked their country’s vicious civil war — and hours after Syrian government forces blanketed the town with airstrikes and rocket fire.