Syrian state media said Monday that the largest rebel group in the suburbs of Damascus has begun evacuating its last stronghold after seven years of war, but the rebels refused to say whether they had surrendered, and it was unclear who was on board a dozen buses seen leaving the town.
The dominant rebel group in Douma is Jaish al-Islam, which is still negotiating a deal with Russian Federation over surrender terms giving its fighters the option of leaving the enclave or making peace with the Syrian authorities.
Fighters from the Failaq al-Rahman rebel group were taken by bus from Douma toward the northern province of Idlib as part of an agreement between the rebel faction and the Syrian government, the state-run SANA news agency said.
"The first stage of the deal stipulates that opposition fighters hand over their heavy and medium weapons to regime forces".
The deal over Douma would mark the end of a weeks-long push by Assad's forces to consolidate their control over eastern Ghouta, just outside the capital.
The deal was reached between the Islamist group and Russian military forces backing Assad, the United Kingdom -based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
SOHR, on Monday, reported divisions within the ranks of Jaish al Islam, which has previously said it would not leave Douma.
The army statement came shortly after another group of opposition fighters and their relatives left southern and western parts of eastern Ghouta Saturday afternoon, bringing President Bashar Assad's forces a step closer to eliminating threats from insurgents groups nearby.
State media say 41,000 people have also been evacuated to Idlib under deals between Ahrar al-Sham and Faylaq al-Rahman.
"The United States is working every day on the ground and with the worldwide community to help stabilize those areas liberated from ISIS and identify ways to move forward with reconstruction once there has been a peaceful political transition away from (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad", the statement said. Russian Federation is a key backer of the Syrian government.
Journalists on the ground said both the regime and the rebels had restricted access to the evacuation operation from Douma.
The city's fall would seal the rebels' worst defeat since 2016.
The Army of Islam ruled Douma with an iron fist, and embodied a more conservative and intolerant vision for Syria than the one promoted by the civil uprising of 2011.
A resident reached by phone described a sense of foreboding among those still in the besieged city.
"We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon", Trump said on Thursday. "We refuse to be forcibly displaced and demographic change in Eastern Ghouta".