Syria rebels begin evacuating Daraa
DARAA – Agence France-Presse
Syrian rebels and their relatives began evacuating the southern city of Daraa on July15 under a deal to bring the “cradle” of the country’s uprising back under government control.
The highly symbolic transfers came as Russian-backed government forces advanced in the neighboring province of Quneitra, with air strikes pounding rebel positions perilously close to the Israeli-occupied Golan heights.
After securing Damascus in May, President Bashar al-Assad turned his attention to rebels in the strategically vital south, where protests against his rule first erupted seven years ago.
Nearly three weeks of bombardment saw beleaguered rebels agree with Russia earlier this month to hand over Daraa province, before reaching a similar deal for its capital this week.
In recent days, rebels have handed over heavy-duty arms and other equipment to government forces who entered the city’s rebel-held southern districts for the first time in years to plant the national flag.
On July 15, rebels and civilians who did not want to live under regime control were granted safe passage to opposition-held Idlib in Syria’s northwest.
Hundreds of fighters and some of their relatives, carrying suitcases packed with clothes, boarded around 15 buses in Daraa city, AFP’s correspondent there said.
The vehicles, parked on a main thoroughfare connecting the city’s government-held north with its rebel-held south, were searched by Russian forces before setting off just after midday for Idlib.
Syrian state television also said the transfers had begun, broadcasting images of white buses they said were carrying the fighters, their blue curtains drawn, surrounded by military forces.
State news agency SANA said rebels were surrendering more heavy and medium weaponry in Daraa on July 15.
That would pave the way for the entire city to come under government control in accordance with the handover deal.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said an estimated 1,400 people were to be evacuated on July 15, including rebels from the city and broader province.