Russia and Syria say thousands of civilians have managed to flee Eastern Ghouta less than a day after government forces advanced into a strategic town south of the militant-held Damascus suburb.

The Syrian state television reported Thursday that some 10,000 people have so far left Eastern Ghouta for safe government-held areas as joint Damascus-UN aid delivery operations are underway in the suburban region.

The RIA new agency also quoted Russian Major General Vladimir Zolotukhin as saying on Thursday that, "We expect no less than 13,000 people to have left by the end of the day."

Earlier in the day, the Russian Defense Ministry extended a humanitarian pause in fighting for two days in parts of Eastern Ghouta to help more civilians leave the operation zone through the safe corridors set up by Syria and Russia.

The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has put the number at 12,500 with its director, Rami Abdulrahman, saying that those who escaped were mostly from the key Eastern Ghouta town of Hamouriyah and nearby areas.

According to the Observatory, Syrian forces on Thursday took control of more than two-thirds of Eastern Ghouta, adding that the Syrian army was in control of more than 70 percent of the area.

Overnight on Wednesday, Syrian government forces, backed by the Russian air force, entered Hamouriyah, which is controlled by the Faylaq al-Rahman militant group, and retook control of parts of the town, located 12 kilometers from Damascus city center.

Eastern Ghouta fell to the militants in 2012, months after Syria plunged into crisis, and has since served as a launch pad for fatal mortar attacks against the residents and infrastructure of the Syrian capital.

The Syrian army has since mid-February been engaged in a push to liberate the region, which is controlled by a collection of militant groups, most notably the Takfiri terror groups of Jaish al-Islam and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, commonly known as al-Nusra Front.

The civilian evacuations on Thursday is the largest of its kind since the onset of the Syrian army's counter-terrorism push.

After the humanitarian pause was announced, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said a joint convoy of 25 trucks carrying food supplies had entered Eastern Ghouta and was on its way to Douma, the largest and most populated town in the area.

The focus of the two-day truce, according to the Russian Ministry, is humanitarian operations in the town of Douma, situated some 10 kilometers from the center of Damascus.


The convoy is organized with the United Nations and the Syria Red Crescent Society.