Fighters evacuated from besieged Syria town reach rebel city

The arrivals were the first since the evacuation of the town just outside Damascus began on Friday

Published: Updated:

A first group of rebels and their families evacuated from the Syrian town of Daraya after four years of government siege have reached opposition-held territory, a monitor said on Saturday.

At least five buses carrying fighters and their families arrived in the rebel-held city of Idlib in the northwest, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The arrivals were the first since the evacuation of the town just outside Damascus began on Friday under an agreement between the government and the rebels.

Daraya had been ravaged by constant bombardment by the army and the long years of siege that saw just a single food aid convoy reach the town since late 2012.

Civilian residents of the town, believed to number around 8,000, are also being evacuated. They are being taken to government-run reception centers pending resettlement elsewhere.

Some 300 fighters and their families were evacuated during the first part of the operation on Friday, according to a military source, with the departures expected to continue on Saturday.

Some other civilians were also evacuated but no figures were immediately available.

Daraya, just 15 minutes from Damascus, was one of the first towns in Syria to rise up against President Bashar al-Assad’s government and became a symbol of the uprising.

It was surrounded by loyalist forces in late 2012.

The rebels said they were forced to agree to evacuate the town because of deteriorating humanitarian conditions.

In recent months, government forces have made a number of advances outside the capital.

Long sieges have prompted the rebels to abandon several areas, prompting activists to accuse Damascus of using “starve or surrender” tactics.

Rebel fighters pulled out of Syria’s third city Homs last year under a similar evacuation deal.

More than 290,000 people have been killed and over half the population displaced since the conflict erupted in 2011.