Civilians, rebels leave long-besieged 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.