MOADIMAYET AL-SHAM, Syria: More than 300 Syrians living in a rebel held town near Damascus were evacuated yesterday under a deal with the government, state media reported. The agreement between the regime and the rebels had already seen thousands of civilians and opposition fighters leave the town of Daraya, southwest of the capital, after a four-year government siege.
Civilians evacuated yesterday from nearby Moadimayet al-Sham had been living there for around three years after fleeing fighting in Daraya. Moadimayet al-Sham is also under government siege, but after a truce deal signed in late 2013 has been spared the heavy fighting that has ravaged other rebel-held areas around the capital. Negotiations are underway to secure a deal under which rebel fighters in the town will also leave, though civilians will reportedly remain, parties to the talks told AFP.
The evacuees walked to the edge of Moadimayet al-Sham, where eight buses were waiting to take them to reception centres elsewhere in Damascus province, an AFP photographer reported. Soldiers searched their suitcases as they left, and checked their names against a list. State media said 303 residents of Daraya were leaving Moadimayet al-Sham and would be taken to Hrajeleh, a regime-held district, for processing. State television said they consisted of 162 children, 79 women and 62 men.
“I’ve been taking refuge here for three years and I hope that life in the reception centre will be better than here,” said Roueida, a mother of seven, as she left. The evacuation follows the implementation of the deal in Daraya itself, which saw the town emptied of rebels and civilians and retaken by government forces. Opposition fighters said they were forced to accept the deal, under which rebels and their families were given safe passage to the rebel-held northwestern city of Idlib, because the blockade and constant bombardment by the army had made the humanitarian situation untenable.
The opposition has criticized such deals and UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura also voiced concern that the Daraya agreement was part of a wider strategy by the regime to empty rebel enclaves that would soon be extended to other areas. He said there were “indications that after Daraya we may have other Darayas.” “There is clearly a strategy at the moment to move from Daraya” to other besieged areas “in a similar pattern”, he told reporters in Geneva on Thursday.
Negotiations are underway between the government and rebels, as well as the local council in Moadimayet al-Sham, for the evacuation of fighters in the town, sources involved in the talks told AFP. Akram al-Jamili, a member of the reconciliation committee for Moadimayet al-Sham, said the deal would differ from the Daraya agreement. “All the civilians will stay. The army will take control of the town. The fighters will sort out their statuses with the authorities or go to Idlib,” he said.
Mohammed Raja, another member of the committee, said the process was expected to begin before the Eid al-Adha holiday, around Sept 12, and continue for several months. An activist in the town, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, said there were around 1,5000 rebel fighters still in Moadimayet al-Sham. – AFP