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Published: Tue, May 09, 2017
World | By Tasha Manning

Syrian rebels, families start leaving Damascus neighborhood


Syrian rebels and their families began evacuating from a district of Damascus for the first time today, bringing the government closer to recapturing all of the capital.

The deal follows Saturday's start of a "de-escalation" process put in place by regime allies Russian Federation and Iran and rebel-backer Turkey in four regions of Syria - but not the capital itself.

The Syrian government has touted evacuation deals providing fighters who surrender safe passage to other rebel-held territory as "local reconciliation" agreements.

It is also the first since Russia, Turkey, and Iran agreed on Friday to enforce a ceasefire between government and opposition forces in four areas in Syria.

The tactic has attracted worldwide concern, with allegations that the government is pursuing a "starve or surrender" policy against opposition areas.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitoring group, said buses had arrived in Barzeh at dawn and hundreds of fighters and family members had started to board them. The Observatory said more people would leave Barzeh over the coming days as part of the same deal.

Qabun has seen fierce fighting for weeks as President Bashar al-Assad s forces advance on rebels.

Such lofty ambitions received a boost from an unlikely source on Monday, when the Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moallem referred to Kurdish forces as "legitimate", according to the Washington Post.

At the end of April, a vast operation took place in which almost 11,000 people were evacuated from besieged rebel-held and loyalist areas.

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The four towns are part of an existing agreement reached in 2015 that requires aid deliveries and evacuations to be carried out simultaneously.

Syria s conflict erupted in March 2011 with the repression of pro-democracy protests.

The evacuations are ongoing, with several pullouts in April.

State-run Ekhbariya television cited its reporter there as saying the evacuation of fighters from Barzeh for the rebel-held Idlib province in northwest Syria had begun to be implemented on Monday, but without giving further details.

A Kurdish-led Syrian force known as the Syrian Democratic Force has been the most effective fighting IS in Syria.

After a suffocating siege and a crushing offensive, the Syrian army declared in December 2016 that it was in full control of Aleppo.

The evacuation deal was struck late Sunday night, and dozens of people had gathered in Barzeh from the morning.

He added that militants must be purged out of safe zones envisaged by the agreement. A similar deal was made to relocate fighters and civilians in the rebel-held neighborhood of Barzeh, Damascus, on May 8.

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