Syrian rebels started leaving the southern province of Daraa Tuesday as part of a Russian-brokered truce aimed at ending the worst fighting in the region in years, a war monitor said.
Daraa was retaken by the government in 2018 but emerged as a new flashpoint as government forces tighten control over Daraa al-Balad, a southern district of the provincial capital considered a hub for former rebels.
Clashes including artillery exchanges between the two sides since late July have marked the biggest challenge yet to the truce deal that returned Daraa province to government control but allowed rebels to stay on in some areas.
Russian-sponsored talks begun in the wake of the latest fighting have intensified in recent days as the government stepped up its campaign to root out remaining rebels from Daraa al-Balad.
On Tuesday, it appeared that warring parties had agreed a deal, as opposition fighters boarded buses to take them to rebel-held territory in the north, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The evacuations are a main 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 Syrian regime are expected to deploy inside Daraa al-Balad under the agreement, it said.
The pro-government al-Watan newspaper also reported the start of evacuations, saying that “implementation of the truce agreement has begun”.
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.”
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.
UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen on Tuesday 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.”