Rebels in Syria's Eastern Ghouta surrendered their heavy weapons and their leader left the enclave, a monitor said yesterday, signalling the end of one of the bloodiest assaults of Syria's seven-year war.
The Syrian flag was raised above the central mosque in Douma, the town where the regime is accused of carrying out a chemical attack that sparked outrage and threats of Western military action.
US President Donald Trump was mulling his options and British Prime Minister Theresa May called an emergency cabinet meeting Thursday, as the Syrian army braced for Western strikes, hiding assets and deserting key buildings.
Jaish al-Islam, which has controlled Eastern Ghouta's main town for years, had balked at a Russian-brokered deal like those that saw other factions bussed to northern Syria.
The group's political chief told AFP it was a chemical attack by the regime that forced them to accept Russia's terms and evacuate their former bastion.
"Of course, the chemical attack is what pushed us to agree" to a withdrawal from Douma, said Yasser Dalwan.
Syrian regime forces had yet to take over Douma Thursday but, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the rebels handed over their heavy weapons.
"Jaish al-Islam fighters handed over their heavy weapons to Russian military police in the town of Douma on Wednesday," the Britain-based monitoring group said.
Their top leader Issam Buwaydani boarded a convoy out of Ghouta with thousands of other fighters and their relatives, it said.
Simultaneously carrying out air strikes, brokering talks and supervising humanitarian operations, Russia was the key player in an assault that left at least 1,700 civilians dead.
According to the Observatory, more than 350,000 people have been killed in seven years of conflict, including a proportion of children that has risen sharply over the past year.