Darayya: new agreement ends “Four Years” of siege

Syria: Assad regime encircling rebel forces in Damascus's Ghouta
The ruins of Darayya near Damascus after 4 years of Assad regime siege and bombardment

The besieged Syrian town of Darayya, a symbol of the rebellion against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, is to be taken over by government forces after the last rebel fighters agreed to hand over their weapons and leave.

The surrender and evacuation of the Damascus suburb after a brutal four-year siege is a devastating blow to opposition morale and a long-sought prize for Assad. Weeks of intense bombardment, which activists claim included napalm attacks, has finally overwhelmed rebels.

“The Assad regime and the armed groups in Darayya agreed on a ceasefire as an interlude to a settlement that includes evacuating civilians as of tomorrow, Friday,” a member of the local council said.

“Seven hundred armed men with their personal weapons will leave Daraya to head to the [rebel-controlled] city of Idlib, while thousands of men and women with their families will be taken to reception centres,” Assad regime’s news agency SANA reported.

“We reached agreement on the evacuation of all of the people of Daraya, civilians and fighters,” said Captain Abu Jamal, head of Liwa Shuda al-Islam, the largest of two main rebel groups inside Daraya.

The evacuation would begin on Friday and last for two or three days, he said.

Families fear being forced to separate, and many of the people left in the city are worried that if they are forced into government-held areas they will disappear into jail for their activism in Darayya, or face an even grimmer fate.

“The civilians are forced mainly to go to the regime-held areas. It is said that the families of the fighters can go with them, but nothing is confirmed yet. Tomorrow, when they come to take the first group of civilians, we will know further details,” the council member said.

Four years of siege

“For four years Darayya was under siege and the international community did nothing,” said Osama Abu Zaid, legal consultant to the Free Syrian Army, in a radio broadcast in northern Syria. “Four years and the United Nations couldn’t provide any humanitarian aid, except once.”

The town became known as a centre for the opposition from the start of the uprising against Assad, which later turned into a war. “Darayya was one of the very first towns to go against Assad. We started very early and we were so peaceful, we didn’t take the choice of raising arms for a full year,” said Kholoud Waleed, an activist from the town who now lives in exile.

Darayya was the home of Ghaith Matar, an activist committed to non-violence. He was famous for handing out roses and bottles of water to government soldiers when they first entered the town in summer 2011. He inspired pro-democracy protesters around Syria, but that autumn he was killed, his body disfigured and his throat cut out.

The town was also the site of a notorious massacre by government forces almost four years to the day before the surrender was agreed. They stormed in to make house-to-house searches, and left hundreds dead in one of the worst killing sprees of the war.

For four years, Darayya was under daily attacks by Assad regime. Assad regime forces tried to take the city on the ground while Assad regime’s air force bombed the city daily. Darayya city is called “The capital of barrel bombs” as these was the most used weapons agaisnt the civilians besieged in the city.

In the past few weeks the army has escalated its bombardment of the rebel-held bastion, intensifying the use of barrel and incendiary bombs. Last week Daraya’s only remaining hospital was hit, rebels and aid workers said.