Tearful rebels and their families leave town after four years under siege

Rebel fighters and their families, many of them in tears, began leaving the devastated Syrian town of Daraya on Friday as they surrendered after four years under siege. The fighters were driven away on a convoy of buses accompanied by Red Crescent aid vehicles and ambulances. The first vehicles to emerge from the town, just a few kilometres from president Bashar al-Assad’s Damascus palace, carried mostly children, elderly people and women. Others followed with fighters clutching the single weapon they were allowed to carry under the terms of the surrender deal. As they left, they were taunted by government troops who waved their guns in the air in celebration and chanted pro-government slogans.

We are being forced to leave, but our condition has deteriorated to the point of being unbearable. We withstood for four years but we couldn’t any longer.

Activist Hussam Ayash

More than 8,000 rebels, their families and civilians are being evacuated from the devastated town under the terms of the deal. The fighters will be taken to join other rebel forces in the north, while their families will go into government shelters before being resettled. The Daraya deal is seen as a coup for Mr Assad, who has regained control from two rebel groups, Ajnad al-Sham and the Martyrs of Islam. Observers fear it is also part of a strategy to drive Sunnis from their homes and communities, further fracturing the country along sectarian lines. Meanwhile, the U.S. and Russia on Friday renewed efforts to secure a military and humanitarian cooperation agreement for war-torn Syria at talks in Geneva.