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Syrian rebels leave besieged Damascus district after government deal

More than a thousand rebels and others have left the Barzeh neighborhood of Damascus as part of a "reconciliation" deal. Fighters and civilians have been granted safe passage, allowing the government to retake control.

Rebels and civilians leaving a district of Homs earlier this month

Rebels and civilians leaving a district of Homs earlier this month

Damascus governor Beshr Assaban said the last of the rebels, their families and other civilians left the besieged Barzeh district of Damascus on Monday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said the last buses began to leave Barzeh in the afternoon as part of a "reconcilliation" agreement between the Syrian govermnent and rebel groups.

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Most evacuees traveled to northwestern Idlib province, which remains a rebel stronghold and borders Turkey, observers said.

Fighters leave

Among the roughly 1,000 who quit were 455 fighters, who have been holed up in the neighborhood as violence intensified in the past few months.

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Barzeh was a once-bustling area that sheltered displaced people from other parts of Syria during the 6-year civil war. But it became a virtual ghost town as residents fled to avoid the recent flare-up in fighting.

The evacuation deals in several, rebel-held areas have been negotiated as a way of reducing bloodshed. More than 5,000 rebels and civilians have left Barzeh under the agreement with the Syrian regime. Thousands more have left the adjacent districts of Qaboun and Tishreen.

Assad takes control

The three districts will now come under the sway of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government, giving him almost complete control over the capital for the first time since 2013.

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The evacuation deals follow a pattern of similar agreements in towns and villages around Damascus, as well as in Syria's third largest city Homs.

Last week, around 3,000 rebels and their families left the al-Waer district in Homs under a similar deal which has allowed as many as 20,000 people to move to a safer area.

Rebels hold part of the heavily damaged Jobar district in the east, and in the south, the Tadamun and Hajar al-Aswad neighbourhoods as well as the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk are now mostly controlled by jihadists.

The United Nations has criticized the evacuations as amounting to forcible displacement.

mm/jm (AFP, Reuters)

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