Syrian regime retakes region near Damascus from rebels
DAMASCUS - Syria's regime retook control of Eastern Qalamun Wednesday after the last rebels and civilians were bussed out of the region near Damascus under an evacuation deal, state media said.
Rebels started leaving Eastern Qalamun on Saturday under an agreement between the opposition fighters and the Russia-backed regime.
It is the latest in a series of deals for areas previously held by rebels near Damascus as President Bashar al-Assad's regime seeks to seal its grip on the capital.
"The operation to bring terrorists with their families out of the areas of Eastern Qalamun has ended and the region is free of terrorism," state television said, using its usual term for rebels.
The evacuation deal included the areas of Al-Ruhayba, Jayrud and Al-Nasiriya in Eastern Qalamoun.
State television said regime security forces had entered the town of Al-Ruhayba -- some 60 kilometres (35 miles) northeast of Damascus -- on Wednesday after the last rebels had departed.
It broadcast images of Syrians waving the country's red, black and white flag in celebration, some on motorbikes as they paraded through the town.
On Tuesday, state news agency SANA said regime security forces had entered Jayrud and hoisted the national flag in the town's main square.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a final convoy of 60 buses had arrived in the northern province of Aleppo.
The buses carrying hundreds of fighters and civilians made it to the northeast of the province, which is controlled by pro-Turkey rebels, the Britain-based monitor said.
Assad's regime has its eye on securing the capital after winning back what was once the last major bastion of the opposition to the east of Damascus.
Eastern Ghouta fell to regime forces earlier this month after a nearly two-month battle and several evacuation agreements that saw thousands of people transferred out and up to northern Syria.
More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced by fighting since Syria's civil war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.