THE Syrian province of Daraya, near Damascus, has been emptied of more than 3000 civilians and rebel fighters after they surrendered to the Syrian army of President Bashar al-Assad, without conflict, last Friday. The ancient city, which archaeologists have suggested may date back to before the time of Christ, had been home to both Catholic and Orthodox Christians since the early 1900s.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the evacuation of about 2500 civilians to shelters in Harjaleh, and of 800 rebel fighters to Idlib, in northern Syria, on Saturday. Soldiers of the Syrian army are now free to assert control over Daraya, which, because it is strategically positioned on the Damascus-Aleppo motorway, had become a symbol of resistance for opposition groups.
The inhabitants, who had refused to leave after the city was seized by government forces in 2012, have, since then, faced near-constant bombardment and shortages of food, water, and electricity. Civilians received their first supplies of aid for four years in June.
The government had previously refused to include the province in a ceasefire deal, arguing that it housed fighters affiliated with the al-Qaeda terrorist group.
The United Nations has condemned the lack of access to besieged areas of Syria, which has prevented “life-saving” aid from reaching civilians. Despite managing to deploy convoys of food, water, and medical aid to al-Waer, in Homs province, last week, access to other conflict zones in August had been “wholly unacceptable”, the director of the UN Information Service, Alessandra Vellucci, said, on behalf of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs this week.
”Much more progress [is] required to reach all besieged and hard-to-reach areas, considering the very high level of needs. [We continue] to call for unconditional, unimpeded, and sustained access to the millions of people in besieged and hard-to-reach locations across Syria,” she said.
But the UN has since come under fire after analysis compiled by The Guardian on Monday suggested that the agency had paid about £10 million to the Syrian government in support of farming and agriculture. This was, reportedly, despite a European Union ban on trade with all Syrian government departments, for fear the funds would be misspent.
”Of paramount importance is reaching as many vulnerable civilians as possible,” a spokesman for the UN told The Guardian. “Our choices in Syria are limited by a highly insecure context where finding companies and partners who operate in besieged and hard-to-reach areas is extremely challenging.”
Last week, the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, and the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, met in Geneva to agree an end to the war in Syria. The future of the Syrian President did not feature in the talks.