Middle East

Syrians leave besieged Damascus suburb of Muadhamiya

Displaced Darayya residents leave Muadhamiya by bus (2 September 2016) Image copyright AP
Image caption The displaced Darayya residents will be taken to a temporary housing area nearby

Three hundred people are leaving a besieged rebel-held suburb of Syria's capital, Damascus, as part of what the government has described as an amnesty.

Buses came to Muadhamiya on Friday to pick up displaced residents of nearby Darayya, another rebel bastion that was evacuated after surrendering last week.

They will go to a temporary housing area in government-controlled Harjaleh.

There are unconfirmed reports that once the last person from Darayya has left, Muadhamiya will itself surrender.

Sources told the AFP news agency that negotiations were under way to secure a deal under which rebels would leave the suburb but civilians would remain.

Muadhamiya has been under siege since 2012, and an estimated 28,000 people are trapped there with dwindling supplies of food and medicine.

A limited truce deal signed in late 2013 has seen the suburb spared the heavy fighting that has ravaged other rebel-held areas, including Darayya.

'Heroic acts'

Under the deal that resulted in their surrender eight days ago, some 4,000 Darayya residents were moved to shelters in Harjaleh and 700 rebel fighters and their families were transported by bus to the north-western rebel-held city of Idlib.

The 303 people from Darayya who began leaving Muadhamiya on Friday were being relocated after benefitting from a presidential amnesty declared in late July, the official Sana news agency reported.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The UN has warned that the evacuation of Darayya's population set an alarming precedent

"The heroic acts of the Syrian army in Darayya led to the achievement in Muadhamiya," declared Damascus Countryside Governor Alaa Munir Ibrahim.

On Thursday, the UN special envoy to Syria warned that the forced displacement of Darayya's entire population had set an alarming precedent.

Staffan de Mistura said there were "indications that after Darayya we may have other Darayyas", adding that the government clearly had a "strategy".

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Media captionThe deal to end the siege of Darayya is seen as a victory for the government

Mr de Mistura's humanitarian adviser, Jan Egeland, said the UN had received urgent pleas from people in Muadhamiya, as well as Madaya, a town in the mountains west of Damascus, and the Homs suburb of al-Waer.

Syrian National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar said earlier this week that "isolated cantons that pose a threat to the state" could not be allowed to remain.

Rebels still control large parts of the Ghouta agricultural belt around Damascus.

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