Syrian rebels, families start leaving Damascus neighborhood

Syrian rebels, families start leaving Damascus neighborhood

Syrian rebels, families start leaving Damascus neighborhood

The spokesman, Hamza Birqdar, said the government had concluded the deal with a civilian committee in Barzeh.

The latest evacuation deal was part of Assad's efforts to reconcile and relocate fighters and civilians in pro-opposition areas and came days after a memorandum was signed by his worldwide allies, Russian Federation and Iran, and Turkey, which supports rebels, to create four de-escalation zones across the country for those fleeing the conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions more.

"Armed men and some of their families have begun leaving Barzeh on 40 buses heading towards northern Syria", Syria's state television news service said.

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.

Such lofty ambitions received a boost from an unlikely source on Monday, when the Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moallem referred to Kurdish forces as "legitimate", according to the Washington Post.

An AFP photographer in Barzeh saw rebel fighters carrying light weapons looking on as children and women in brightly-coloured headscarves pulled shabby suitcases and duffel bags.

A source from the pro-regime National Defence Forces said opposition fighters would be allowed to take their "personal weapons" with them.

The district had been the focal point of heavy fighting between government forces under Bashar al-Assad and rebels over the last few months.

"Barzeh and Qabun are calm because talks are under way on what would be the first evacuation of its kind in the capital", Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP in Beirut.

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Assad's government controls all but six districts of Damascus: Barzeh, Qabun, Jobar, Tishreen, Tadamun, and Yarmuk camp.

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

Over the past six years, Syria has been fighting foreign-sponsored militancy.

Today's evacuation began as battlefronts quietened in Syrian territory included in four "de-escalation zones" agreed by Russia, Iran and Turkey.

The agreement, inked in the Kazakh capital Astana, does not include Damascus city, and also excludes Sweida and Tartus, two provinces fully under government control.

The deal came into effect on midnight Friday, with fighting subsiding, but the co-sponsors have until June 4 to submit maps finalising the borders of the zones.

The memorandum also calls on all parties to fight jihadists from so-called Islamic State and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an al-Qaeda-linked alliance once known as al-Nusra Front.

The deal says the "de-escalation zones" would be bordered by security areas with checkpoints and observation centres "ensured by the forces of the guarantors by consensus", but that "third-party" monitors could also be deployed.

"International forces, under the supervision of the United Nations, will not be present", he said.

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