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300 Syrians Leave Rebel Damascus Suburb under Daraya Deal | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Syrian regime troops stand guard as rebel fighters and their families are evacuated by bus from Daraya outside Damascus, under a plan to end a brutal four-year siege (AFP Photo/Youssef Karwashan)

More than 300 Syrians living in the rebel-held Mouadamiyat al-Sham district, a suburb of the capital Damascus, after fleeing fighting in Daraya were evacuated on Friday under a deal with the regime that grants amnesty to gunmen and restores state control.

The agreement between the regime and the rebels has already seen thousands of civilians and rebel fighters leave Daraya itself after a four-year regime siege of the town.

The civilians evacuated by buses on Friday were mostly women and children, and have been in Mouadamiyat al-Sham for around three years, after fleeing clashes in Daraya.

Mouadamiyat al-Sham is also under regime 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.

The evacuees walked to the edge of Mouadamiyat al-Sham, where eight buses were waiting to take them to reception centers elsewhere in Damascus province.

Soldiers searched their luggage as they left, and checked their names against a list.

State media said 303 residents of Daraya were leaving Mouadamiyat 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 center will be better than here,” said Roueida, a mother of seven, as she left.

The 303 people leaving on Friday are civilians who had already been displaced from Daraya, said Mohammed Naim Rajab, a local official in Mouadamiyat. The remaining Daraya refugees will depart during the next week or 10 days, he added.

Once the 300 evacuees have been moved to government-controlled areas, under the second part of the Mouadamiyat deal gunmen who refuse to hand over their weapons will be forced to leave, likely to rebel-held parts of northern Syria.

It was not clear when security forces would take over control of the suburb.

The evacuation follows the implementation of the deal in Daraya itself, which saw the town emptied of rebels and civilians and retaken by regime 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.

U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura voiced concern that the Daraya deal was part of a wider strategy by the regime to empty rebel enclaves that would soon be extended to other areas.

The opposition High Negotiations Committee charged that “local truce” agreements like the one agreed in Daraya were leading to “ethnic and political cleansing.”

Food aid reached Daraya just once during the four-year siege imposed by regime forces, and residents said they subjected to heavy bombardment directly after the aid was delivered.