Syrian rebels complete evacuation from Damascus district

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Members of the Russian Military police stand guard as a bus drives past during the first phase of the Russian-supervised deal to complete the evacuation of Syrian fighters and civilians. (AFP)

The last rebels and others who had agreed to leave the besieged Barzeh district of Damascus have done so, the Syrian capital’s governor was quoted as saying on Monday by state television, bringing the entire area under state control.

Some 1,012 people, including 455 fighters, left Barzeh in a bus convoy for rebel-held parts of northern Syria as part of an agreement between the government and insurgents, state TV said.

Barzeh and the adjacent districts Qaboun and Tishreen, in northeast Damascus, will now come under the sway of President Bashar al-Assad’s government, giving him almost complete control over the capital for the first time since 2013.

Most residents of the once-bustling area, which sheltered displaced people from other parts of Syria during the war, fled over the last two months as violence there intensified.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said the last buses began to leave Barzeh on Monday afternoon.

The Observatory said most evacuees were going to Idlib province, a rebel stronghold in northwest Syria bordering Turkey. Some would go to Jarablus, a town that Turkey-backed rebels control along Syria’s northern border.

Hundreds of rebels and civilians have left the Damascus districts this month under agreement with the government after weeks of intense fighting and bombardment.

Assad has promoted local evacuation deals for rebel bastions in what the state calls “reconciliation” deals as a way of reducing bloodshed in the six-year conflict. Residents can stay on in those areas if they agree to submit to government rule.

But the United Nations has criticized both the use of siege tactics that have preceded such deals and the evacuations as amounting to forcible displacement.

Source: Reuters

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