Viet Nam News
DARAA – Hundreds of Syrian rebels and their relatives left the southern city of Daraa on Sunday under a deal to bring the "cradle" of the country’s uprising back under government control.
Just hours after the transfers, Syria accused its longtime enemy Israel of trying to support the rebels by targeting a Syrian army position in the war-ravaged country’s north.
After securing Damascus in May, President Bashar al-Assad turned his attention to rebels in the strategic south, where protests against his rule first erupted in 2011.
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 heavy-duty arms and equipment to government forces who entered the city’s rebel-held southern districts for the first time in years and raised the national flag.
On Sunday, rebels and civilians who did not want to live under government control were granted safe passage to opposition-held Idlib in Syria’s northwest.
Hundreds of fighters and some relatives, carrying suitcases packed with clothes, boarded around 15 buses in Daraa city, AFP’s correspondent there said.
Russian forces searched the vehicles, parked on a main thoroughfare connecting the city’s government-held north with its rebel south, before they set off just after midday for Idlib.
"My heart is aching and in pieces. May God recompense us. What more can I say?" said Huzayfa Halawa, a 28-year-old rebel evacuated Sunday.
- Buses leave, buses stay -
The official news agency SANA said on Sunday Daraa’s rebels released five male hostages into government custody and also surrendered more heavy and medium weaponry.
That would pave the way for the entire city to come under government control in accordance with the handover deal.
A small group of Syrian soldiers took up position in Daraa al-Balad on Sunday, a key rebel-held quarter, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.
It said 430 people including civilians and rebels from the city and wider province were evacuated, far fewer than the 1,400 expected to leave.
The deal for Daraa city is the latest in a string of such agreements the government has used to retake large parts of the country.
They are often brokered by Moscow, and usually follow ferocious military campaigns and sometimes stifling sieges that effectively force rebels to surrender.
Their terms also typically include the mass transfer of thousands of rebels and civilians to opposition-held Idlib, in what rights groups and activists say may amount to forced displacement. — AFP