Syrian regime takes control of Damascus suburb amid full evacuation

Beirut (dpa) - The Syrian army took control of Daraya near the capital Damascus on Saturday after completing the evacuation of civilians and rebel fighters from the town, monitors and state media reported.

More than 3,200 people including rebel gunmen and civilians were transported by buses from Daraya under a deal reached between the government and rebels, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The civilians were transferred to accommodation centres in a regime-controlled area west of Damascus, according to the monitoring group.

Around 800 rebels were transported out of Daraya to Idlib in north-western Syria under the same deal, added the Britain-based watchdog, which relies on a network of activists inside Syria.

A Syrian government source told dpa that 1,650 fighters had left Daraya for Idlib together with their families.

Syria's state news agency SANA meanwhile reported that Governor of the Damascus province, Alaa Ibrahim, toured Daraya and pledged to rebuild the town.

The opposition gunmen torched several of their offices inside Daraya before their departure under the evacuation deal that went into effect on Friday, the report said.

The evacuation operation is seen as tightening the Syrian government's grip on Damascus, the power base of President Bashar al-Assad.

Daraya received its first food aid shipment in June after suffering a four-year siege waged by al-Assad's forces.

Shortly after the aid delivery, the town was hit by regime airstrikes which, activists said, had disrupted food distribution.

The government has now regained control or negotiated local truces in much of the Damascus hinterland that fell into rebel hands earlier in the five-year conflict.

The evacuation of Daraya is expected to help the regime secure the Mezzeh military airport, one of the capital's key strategic facilities.

But the opposition charges that many of the government gains in the region have been won by siege and starvation tactics, with rebel districts forced to surrender or sign local truces in order to gain supplies.

According to UN estimates, some 600,000 people are currently in Syrian locations under siege.

Most of the people are in rebel-held areas besieged by regime forces, though both rebels and the Islamic State extremist group are also imposing sieges on government-held areas.

The UN figure does not include Aleppo in northern Syria, where up to 2 million have been at risk since government and rebel forces cut through each others' supply lines around the divided city.

At least 16 people were killed on Saturday when unidentified helicopters dropped barrels packed with explosives on a gathering of mourners in Aleppo, the human rights group said.

The explosives, known as barrel bombs, were dropped on the rebel-held neighbourhood of Bab al-Neirab on the outskirts of Aleppo, it added.

The victims were mourning 15 people, including 11 children, who had been killed in an air attack two days earlier in the same district.

Aleppo, Syria's pre-war commercial hub, has been divided between al-Assad's forces in the west and rebels to the east since fighting erupted for the control of the city in mid-2012.

In depth coverage

Locals, rebels bused out of Damascus suburb after 4-year siege

The first buses carrying local residents and rebel fighters left the Damascus suburb of Daraya on Friday under a deal that will see the area evacuated after a four-year siege by government forces.

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Last update: Fri, 26/08/2016 - 23:12
Last update: Sat, 27/08/2016 - 20:48
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