Roughly 2,000 Syrian rebels, civilians evacuate town north of Damascus
An estimated 2,000 people, including rebel fighters and their families, have evacuated an opposition-held town north of Syria's capital on Friday under a deal with the government, a monitor said.
"About 2,000 people were taken in more than 40 buses out of Al-Tal and transported to Idlib province on Friday," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Syrian state news agency SANA confirmed that rebels had left Al-Tal in accordance with an agreement between local leaders and Damascus.
Under such deals, rebel fighters agree to leave an opposition-held town in exchange for an end to government bombardment or suffocating siege.
Al-Tal was the sixth such town in three months to be evacuated, just days after a similar operation in Khan Al-Shih, southwest of Damascus.
While the fiercest recent battles in Syria's civil war have taken place in the northern city of Aleppo, the government and allied forces have also been steadily advancing in the area around Damascus.
The government has touted such "local reconciliation" agreements as a way to bring an end to the country's nearly six-year civil war.
But rights groups and the exiled Syrian opposition group have blasted them.
In early October, the Istanbul-based Syrian Interim Government - formed by the opposition Syrian National Coalition - condemned calls by the UN special envoy to Syria for the evacuation of militants from east Aleppo as advocating "sectarian demographic change", and announced they would be cutting off all communication with him as a result.
Rebel groups retain a significant pocket of territory in Eastern Ghouta, an area of towns and farms east of the capital, but the enclave has been shrinking under army advances, intense bombing and a prolonged siege.
Local sources had estimated that there were about 1,500 rebels in Al-Tal, about a third of them from the hardline Islamist group Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front.
Since it erupted in March 2011, Syria's conflict has displaced more than half of the country's pre-war population.
An estimated five million have fled to neighbouring countries, but millions more have sought refuge in internal displacement camps.