Some 4,000 people, half of them jihadist fighters, will leave three besieged districts south of Syria’s capital at the weekend as part of a landmark ceasefire, sources said today. Militants from the Islamic State jihadist group and its rival, Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front, will reportedly quit the districts of Qadam, Hajar al-Aswad and the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmuk.
“An agreement was reached whereby 4,000 fighters and civilians, including members of Al-Nusra and IS, would leave” the neighbourhoods on Saturday, one government official close to the negotiations told AFP. They would then be transported to the northern cities of Raqa, held by IS, and Marea which is controlled by Islamists and Al-Nusra, the official said.
The second phase of the deal would see government institutions reopen in the neighbourhoods and “the necessities of daily life would be secured”, the official said. It will be the first time in more than two years that market goods have been able to be sent in to the three southern districts, which have been under a crippling government siege.
IS militants attacked the Yarmuk Palestinian camp in April, fighting Al-Nusra units there for control. The jihadists then overran parts of Qadam in August after launching an attack from their base in nearby Hajar al-Aswad. Their advance into Qadam had brought them closer than ever to central Damascus.
Local ceasefires have been implemented in other parts of Syria with varying degrees of success. Typically, towns or villages under siege agree to a truce in exchange for humanitarian aid and the evacuation of wounded civilians and fighters. A similar deal earlier this month in the central city of Homs saw 2,000 rebels and civilians leave the last opposition-held neighbourhood.