President Bashar al-Assad stands with soldiers of the Syrian army.
BEIRUT (Reuters) – Two thousand Syrian Islamist fighters are expected to be evacuated soon from besieged, rebel-held areas of southern Damascus in a deal brokered by the United Nations, a Hezbollah TV station said on Friday.
The deal marks a success for the government of President Bashar al-Assad, increasing its chances of reasserting control over a strategic area just 4 km (2.5 miles) south of the center of the capital.
It also highlights the increasing efforts of the U.N. and foreign governments to bring about local ceasefires and safe-passage agreements as steps toward the wider goal of ending Syria’s civil war, in which more than 250,000 people have been killed in nearly five years of fighting.
The besieged militants include fighters of Islamic State and the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s offshoot in Syria. Hezbollah’s Manar TV said 18 buses had arrived to start taking them and 1,500 family members to areas under the control of IS and other rebel groups. It was not clear whether the buses were provided by the U.N. or by the Syrian army.
[…] Separately, the Syrian army said on Friday it had fought its way close to the strategic, rebel-held Aleppo-Damascus highway – its latest gain in a major offensive supported by Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias and Russian air power. […]
In a separate development, a British-based monitoring group said the last of some 200 Nusra Front fighters operating in Deraa province in the south had been given safe passage by the Syrian authorities to leave for rebel-controlled Idlib.
Damascus agreed to the move in return for the release of Iranian officers captured by Nusra while fighting alongside the Syrian army, said Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. […]
Meanwhile in the capital of Syria:
Tens of thousands out in Damascus streets celebrating Christmas Eve.. Syrian Christians & Muslims celebrated all over town