Rebels, civilians to evacuate Syria’s Daraya following deal

Syrian army soldiers stand at the entrance of the besieged Damascus suburb of Daraya, before the start of evacuation of residents and insurgents of Daraya, Syria. (Reuters)

Ambulances and Red Crescent vehicles entered Syria’s besieged town of Daraya as thousands of rebels and civilians prepared to evacuate on Friday ahead of its takeover by government forces.

It was unclear exactly when residents and fighters would start leaving the devastated town near the capital Damascus that has been under rebel control since 2012. An estimated 8,000 people remain in the town, despite a government siege lasting four years and regular regime bombardment.

Daraya is located just 15 minutes drive from Damascus and is even closer to the government’s Mazzeh air base. On Thursday, Syrian state news agency SANA announced a deal had been struck for the evacuation of civilians and fighters in the town. The agreement is seen as a major defeat for the opposition and has provoked anger among its supporters.

“Seven hundred armed men with their personal weapons will leave Daraya to head to the (rebel-controlled) city of Idlib, while thousands of men and women with their families will be taken to reception centres,” SANA said. The rebels would have to surrender other armaments to the army.

The rebels who control the town belong to two Islamist groups: Ajnad al-Sham and the Martyrs of Islam. A Syrian source on the ground said Thursday that the evacuation could take four days to complete.

A military source told AFP the army would enter Daraya, which was one of the first towns in Syria to erupt in anti-government protests in March 2011.

“The civilians will go to regions under regime control around Damascus, rebels will go to Idlib “or sort out their situation with the regime”, a rebel official told AFP. Most of Idlib province, in northwest Syria, is held by the powerful Army of Conquest rebel alliance.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:49 - GMT 06:49