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Syria: Rebels begin leaving Daraa as part of truce deal

Russian-brokered truce sees last remaining opposition forces transferred to rebel-held territory in north
Russian troops in the Syrian district of Daraa al-Balad in Syria's southern province of Daraa on 24 August 2021 (AFP)

Syrian opposition forces have begun to leave the southern province of Daraa following the implementation of a Russia-brokered truce deal, according to a war monitor.

Daraa was recaptured by the Syrian government in 2018 but attempts to impose the state's control over the Daraa al-Balad district provoked a pushback from armed rebels.

There have been clashes - including artillery exchanges - between the two sides since late July. These have been the biggest challenge yet to the Russia-brokered deal that returned Daraa province to government control but allowed rebels to stay on in some areas.

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But on Tuesday, opposition fighters boarded buses to take them to rebel-held territory in the north, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, suggesting talks had succeeded.

These evacuations are a key part of the ceasefire accord that also calls on opposition fighters who stay in the province to hand over their weapons, the Observatory said.

Forces linked to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are expected to deploy inside Daraa al-Balad under the agreement, it added

The pro-government al-Watan newspaper also reported the start of evacuations, saying that "implementation of the truce agreement has begun".

Thousands displaced

Earlier on Tuesday, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that 38,600 internally displaced persons are registered in and around Daraa, with most having fled from Daraa al-Balad.

"This includes almost 15,000 women, over 3,200 men and elderly and over 20,400 children," OCHA said.

It warned of a critical situation in the volatile district, saying that access to goods and services, including food and power, is "extremely challenging".

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The Observatory said that government forces are restricting the entry of goods into Daraa al-Balad, where it says 40,000 people still live.

"They are living under siege with families facing shortages of food, medical services, potable water, power, and Internet," said the monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria.

On Tuesday the UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen warned the Security Council of a pressing need for humanitarian assistance.

"We repeat our calls on all parties to end the violence immediately," he said.

"Immediate, safe, and unimpeded humanitarian access is needed to all affected areas and communities, including Daraa al-Balad."

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