History of Syrian rebel pullouts

 08 May 2017 - 14:47

History of Syrian rebel pullouts
File Photo: AFP.

AFP

Beirut: Hundreds of Syrian rebels and their families on Monday began evacuating from a district in Damascus for the first time since war broke out six years ago.

The rebel pullout from Barzeh comes days after the start of a deal brokered by regime backers Russia and Iran and rebel supporter Turkey for "de-escalation zones" across Syria.

The Syrian government has touted evacuation deals providing fighters who surrender safe passage to other rebel-held territory as "local reconciliation" agreements.

The opposition says they are forced into these agreements after months or years of siege and army bombardment.

The tactic has attracted international concern, with allegations that the government is pursuing a "starve or surrender" policy against opposition areas.

Here are some of the key evacuations that took place in recent months:

- Barzeh, Qabun -

Syrian state television said "armed men and some of their families" begun leaving Barzeh Monday morning on buses heading to northern Syria, with the operation to continue for five days.

Those who wanted to say should register with the government, it said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said up to 1,500 people, mostly rebels, would be boarding the buses Monday to Idlib province.

Negotiations were ongoing for a similar deal in the district of Qabun, in Damascus's northeast, which forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have been shelling heavily for weeks.

"We are working on Qabun and there is the Yarmuk camp, where talks are underway for the evacuation of armed groups," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told reporters.

- 'Four Towns' -

A deal sponsored by rebel-backer Qatar and regime ally Iran saw nearly 11,000 people evacuated in April from the government-held towns of Fuaa and Kafraya and the rebel-controlled towns of Zabadani and Madaya.

It was the largest evacuation operation yet, and a second phase is due to begin in June. 

The four towns are part of an existing agreement reached in 2015 that requires aid deliveries and evacuations to be carried out simultaneously.

April's operation left Madaya and Zabadani under government control, but civilians and government fighters are still present in Fuaa and Kafraya. 

The operation came at a high cost, however, when a suicide bomber struck a convoy of evacuees from Fuaa and Kafraya, killing at least 150 people including dozens of children. 

- 'Revolution capital' Homs -

Syria's third city Homs was dubbed the "capital of the revolution," after anti-government protests erupted in March 2011. 

In May 2014, rebels cornered by advancing regime forces agreed to leave but the government went on to besiege Waer, the last remaining opposition-held district in the city. 

After nearly three years of government siege, rebels in Waer agreed to a new evacuation deal in mid-March that would be supervised by Russia. 

The evacuations are ongoing, with several pullouts in April. 

As in most such operations, anti-regime fighters are being evacuated headed to rebel-held territory elsewhere in the country, with many ending up in the northwestern province of Idlib. 

- Second city Aleppo -

Once Syria's commercial hub, Aleppo was devastated by more than four years of fighting, particularly along the front line that separated the rebel-held east from the government-held west.

After a suffocating siege and a crushing offensive, the Syrian army declared in December 2016 that it was in full control of Aleppo.

Thousands of rebels and civilians were evacuated from the city under a deal sponsored by Iran, Russia and Turkey.

- Around Damascus - 

A string of deals since last summer have seen thousands of people evacuated from more than half a dozen towns and villages around the Syrian capital. 

In August 2016, all rebels and civilians from Daraya near Damascus left under a local agreement that followed a four-year government siege, with fighters given safe passage to Idlib.

In September, a further 300 Syrians were evacuated from rebel-held Moadimayet al-Sham near Damascus under the same accord.

In January, a deal between the government and rebels allowed for the evacuation of some 700 anti-regime fighters and 1,400 civilians from Wadi Barada, a flashpoint area that supplies water to Damascus.