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Syria army lets civilians escape siege – state media

DAMASCUS, Syria — The Syrian army has given dozens of families "safe passage" out of a besieged area east of Damascus, state news agency SANA said on Tuesday, December 30.

"Syrian army units gave safe passage to dozens of families from Douma and Zibdin in Eastern Ghouta," said SANA, referring to a rebel-held area that has been under suffocating army siege for more than a year. (TIMELINE: Syria crisis)

The news agency said 31 families were evacuated. 

Among them were women, children and elderly people, as well as "several armed men who turned themselves in."

The evacuation was the second since December 9, when 76 families were allowed out of Douma, SANA said.

Speaking to Agence France-Presse in Beirut via the Internet, an activist in Douma confirmed the evacuations.

The activist, who identified himself as Saeed al-Batal, said there were fears those evacuated would be detained or face conscription into pro-regime militia.

"A group of people who were evacuated a month and a half ago... are still being held today," he said.

"There are also rumours that (male evacuees) will be recruited into... a pro-regime militia."

Human rights groups say that living conditions for the tens of thousands of civilians in Eastern Ghouta are miserable.

Rebel-held towns such as Douma face frequent aerial and tank bombardment. Food is scarce, while medical facilities are ill-equipped to handle either illness or injury. — Rappler.com