Evacuation of rebel-held Damascus suburb to start, watchdog says

Buses entered the Damascus suburb of Daraya on Friday to evacuate civilians and rebels from the rebel-held area, a monitoring group said, after a deal reached between fighters and the government looked set to end a four-year-long siege.

"The buses which are due to evacuate the rebels and civilians started to enter the city after all obstacles were removed from the roads closed since 2012," Rami Abdel Rahman, head of Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told dpa.

"Later on, rebels estimated at 700 will be allowed to take their families and move to the north-western Idlib province," the Britain-based Observatory said.

On Thursday, a regime negotiator, who asked not to be named, told dpa some 3,500 civilians and rebel fighters will leave the suburb of Daraya under the deal and be bussed to the rebel-held city of Idlib. Another 4,000 would move to a different Damascus suburb, he added.

Daraya only received its first aid convoys in June this year after government ally Russia joined Western powers in setting a deadline for humanitarian access to the besieged area.

The town's residents were suffering from severe shortages and malnutrition prior to the aid deliveries, according to local activists.

The Syrian opposition accuses the regime of President Bashar al-Assad of using siege and starvation tactics to wear down rebel strongholds.

But the latest deal is likely to be seen as a success for the government's much-criticized tactics. It also leaves government forces well placed to secure the key Mezzeh military airport.

Meanwhile, the fate of civilians trapped in the city of Aleppo topped the agenda at Friday talks between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva.

The two top diplomats discussed a 48-hour silence of arms in Aleppo, sought urgently by the United Nations to help tens of thousands of people trapped between government and rebel forces.

Kerry and Lavrov also plan to seek ways towards a country-wide ceasefire, in an effort to restart UN-brokered talks involving the US-backed rebels and the government, which has been getting support from Russian forces.

Ahead of the Geneva encounter, Lavrov criticized Washington for failing to put pressure on rebels that have been fighting alongside Islamist group Fatah al-Sham. The group is al-Qaeda's wing in Syria and was formerly know as the al-Nusra Front.

"They should better look in the mirror and implement what they had promised since January - separate the opposition that they consider to be loyal from the terrorists," Lavrov was quoted as saying by news agency TASS.

Last update: Fri, 26/08/2016 - 11:58
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