A second group of rebel fighters left the southern Syrian city of Daraa Thursday under a Russian-brokered truce aimed at ending the region’s worst fighting in years, a monitor said.
Daraa, seen as the birthplace of Syria’s uprising in 2011 and held for years by opposition forces, was returned to government control in 2018 under a previous Moscow-backed ceasefire that had allowed rebels to stay in some areas of Daraa province.
But since late July local armed groups have exchanged artillery fire with government forces and the regime has imposed a crippling siege on the city’s southern districts of Daraa al-Balad, seen as a hub for former rebels.
The clashes were the biggest challenge yet to the 2018 ceasefire, and Moscow-led talks have intensified in recent days as the government has stepped up its campaign to root out remaining rebels from Daraa al-Balad.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Thursday that 53 people, mostly “fighters who rejected the reconciliation deal reached under Russian auspices,” had been sent to northern Syria.
Syria’s official SANA news agency said that “45 terrorists and some of their family members” had left Daraa in what it called a step “towards ending terrorist control over the district and towards the return of all state institutions and services.”
It came two days after an initial group of opposition fighters boarded buses to take them to rebel-held territory in the north, according to the Britain-based Observatory.
It says the agreement would see around 100 rebel fighters leave Daraa al-Balad for northern Syria, with remaining fighters surrendering their arms, in exchange for a lifting of the siege which has seen some 40,000 people face water and power cuts as well as food and medical shortages.
The United Nations said Tuesday that the latest escalation had forced some 38,000 people to flee over the past month.
UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen called Tuesday for humanitarian assistance and an immediate truce.
“Immediate, safe, and unimpeded humanitarian access is needed to all affected areas and communities, including Daraa al-Balad,” he told the Security Council.