Syrian rebels and civilians begin evacuating devastated suburb of Damascus | News | DW | 26.08.2016
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Syrian rebels and civilians begin evacuating devastated suburb of Damascus

Daraya lies just 7 km from the Syrian seat of power, but it was one of the first to rise against Assad's hardline rule. Syrian forces eventually surrounded the town and held it under s​iege for the past four years.

After four years of living under a Syrian government state of siege, the Damascus suburb of Daraya has effectively been reduced to a pile of rubble, forcing rebels to agree to give up the city in exchange for their own freedom.

A Syrian Army general said around 300 families of fighters are being evacuated from the town on Friday. That will be followed by approximately 700 fighters and 4,000 civilians departing on Saturday.

Watch video 01:13

Hundreds dead in assault on Daraya (2012)

Daraya's local council posted a statement online saying civilians - and any rebels who want to make peace with the government - will be taken to the town of Herjalleh, a western suburb of Damascus, and "will move later to places they choose."

Herjalleh is the site of a government housing project for displaced people.

Rebels who remain opposed to the Syrian government would be transferred to Idlib, according to a Syrian army general.

A rebel fighter said the decision to evacuate the town was forced upon them by deteriorating living conditions.

"The town is no longer inhabitable," he said. "It has been completely destroyed."

Horrors of Daraya

People gather amid bombed out buildings before being evacuated from the besieged Damascus suburb of Daraya.

People gather before being evacuated from Daraya

Daraya became a symbol of the initial uprising in 2011 that began with peaceful protests against Assad's government. Subsequently, it degenerated into a civil war that has killed nearly 300,000 people.

During four years of siege only one convoy of international food aid entered the town. And that was in June, shortly after another convoy delivered medicine.

But distribution of the food aid was limited, as it was immediately followed by a heavy military bombardment by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

Daraya lies just 7 km (4 miles) from Assad's seat of power. The suburb repeatedly repelled government forces attempting to retake the town, eventually plunging the country into civil war.

Watch video 01:25

Paramedic remembers rescuing 5-year-old boy

It was also the scene of one of the worst atrocities of the war. Several hundred people, including civilians, were killed in 2012, when security forces stormed the suburb after locals took up arms.

Many were killed execution style, as both the army and rebels blamed each other.

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura lamented the devastation wrought upon the town, calling it "tragic that repeated appeals to lift the siege of Daraya... and cease the fighting have never been heeded."

Mistura said it is "imperative" that Daraya's residents be protected and not be forcefully evacuated.

"The world is watching," he said.

Meanwhile, in Geneva, US Secretary of State John Kerry spent four hours locked in negotiations with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov as the two men sought a broader agreement on fighting Islamist militants in Syria.

Such a deal could pave the way for talks on a political transition to end the five-year Syrian conflict.

bik/jil (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

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