Rebels Surrender Damascus Suburb, Ending Regime’s Four-Year Siege

The Syrian government reached a deal with rebels in the besieged town of Daraya for hundreds of fighters to flee to the city of Idlib as civilians are evacuated and taken to government-controlled areas. The town, less than two miles from Damascus, is considered deeply symbolic by both sides in the war (NYT). An estimated 8,000 civilians still live in Daraya after four years under siege by the government (Middle East Eye). The evacuation could begin as early as Friday (Al Jazeera) and last several days. The surrender comes as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Geneva to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to negotiate a temporary cease-fire in the city of Aleppo, where hundreds have died in recent weeks in an escalation of fighting (BBC).


“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 evacuation will be carried out in stages, with fighters leaving for opposition-controlled areas, but the fate of the few thousand civilians who have endured years of fighting and deprivation is still unclear,” Emma Graham-Harrison writes for the Guardian.

“The deal in Daraya was portrayed by the Syrian state media as a magnanimous victory and by government opponents as a bitter but necessary surrender. The town was surrounded and besieged in 2012, not long after residents described a knife massacre by pro-government militias that killed hundreds of people. Since then, the government has allowed just two United Nations aid deliveries, both in June, taking in mosquito nets and shampoo when some people were ill because of lack of food,” Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad write for the New York Times.

“We are seeing discussions between the U.S. Department of Defense and Russian Ministry of Defense about engaging in joint activities against terrorist groups. It is in Russia’s interest for Nusra to be one of the groups targeted in any joint campaign. But [joint action against it] will only empower Nusra, because it will appeal to people saying that the United States from the beginning has sought to keep Assad in power. Any cooperation between Russia and the United States that targets Nusra will end up playing right into the hands of Nusra, because it will use the cooperation to disseminate a victimization narrative that will be very appealing to people,” Lina Khatib says in this CFR interview.