Civilians, rebels leave long-besieged Daraya

Sunday 04/09/2016
Citizens gathering as they prepare to evacuate from Daraya

ONTARIO - Under pressure of star­vation, barrel-bombing and incendiary weap­ons, thousands of ci­vilians have evacuated Daraya after an agreement with the Syrian regime to end a siege of the Damascus suburb.
The four-year blockade forced rebel troops in Daraya to surrender to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad in a deal reached Au­gust 25th that includes the evacua­tion of people there.
Rebel forces — estimated at about 800 fighters — and their families have been relocated to rebel-held Idlib governorate. About 7,000 ci­vilians were taken to “reception centres” around Damascus under regime control.
Some residents voiced concerns over the evacuation, fearing they would be arrested by the regime as happened in negotiated surrenders in Homs and other Damascus sub­urbs.
UN Special Envoy for Syria Staf­fan de Mistura said in a statement that the United Nations was not consulted or involved in the nego­tiation of the Daraya deal.
The Daraya civil council repeated­ly called on the international com­munity to take action and to end the siege. De Mistura said Daraya’s appeals have not been heeded and now “the world is watching.”
The Assad regime had been put­ting pressure on rebels in Daraya, intensifying barrel-bombing and storming the suburb from the south-west. Rebels had lost signifi­cant territory in southern and west­ern Daraya before the evacuation agreement.
Malek Refay, a media activist and photographer from Daraya, described horrific conditions in Daraya. He confirmed that all farms that families used to depend on for food were captured by regime forces and the destruction of the last hospital in the town, which was reportedly targeted with incendiary weapons.
“It is the same message since the revolution started,” Refay said, “‘As­sad or we burn the country.’ There is no third option.”
A blockade was imposed on Daraya in late 2012. Only once dur­ing the siege were the United Na­tions and Syrian Arab Red Crescent allowed to make a delivery to the town and the trucks carried only medical supplies and baby formula. Food aid was barred.
After a ceasefire brokered in Feb­ruary 2016 between Russia and the United States, Daraya was rela­tively calm. However, after 75 days of ceasefire, the regime launched a fierce campaign against the town.
As the regime’s military cam­paign against Daraya escalated, chemical weapons, such as napalm, were reportedly used in recent weeks.
Daraya is 7km from the centre of Damascus and is near crucial re­gime bases, including the Mezzeh Military Airport, the Republican Guard’s headquarter, and the ar­my’s elite 4th Armoured Division base.
Since the start of the uprising against the regime in 2011, Daraya had symbolised a consistent resist­ance and resilience despite terrible siege conditions.