28 Aug 2016

Syrian govt retakes Darayya as rebels leave

2:09 pm on 28 August 2016

The Syrian government has retaken control of the town of Darayya, after the last rebels left under a deal ending a four-year siege.

Syrian rebel fighters and their families, helped by Red Crescent, arrive in Idlib after being evacuated from Daraya.

Syrian rebel fighters and their families, helped by Red Crescent, arrive in Idlib after being evacuated from Daraya. Photo: AFP

Buses containing the rest of the 700 opposition fighters left yesterday for rebel-held city of Idlib after handing over their heavy weapons.

Thousands of civilians also left Darayya for government reception centres in Damascus under the agreement, having endured years of constant shelling and shortages of food, water and electricity. The electricity supply was cut off more than three years ago.

Darayya saw some of the first protests against the Syrian government, an uprising that transformed into a full-blown civil conflict.

The Syrian army encircled the town in 2012 and just one aid delivery - of vaccines, baby milk, medicine and nutritional goods - made it to the town in the past four years.

The withdrawal of rebels just a few miles from Damascus is widely seen as a victory for the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad.

The United Nations expressed concern over the evacuation of civilians, saying it was essential that those leaving did so voluntarily, but some of those leaving said the town had become uninhabitable.

A woman and child are evacuated by bus from Darayya outside the Syrian capital.

A woman and child are evacuated by bus from Darayya outside the Syrian capital. Photo: AFP

Elsewhere at least 20 people died in barrel bombings while attending a funeral in Aleppo. It brings the civilian death toll in the northern Syrian city to over 60.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two barrel bombs - typically oil drums filled with explosives and shrapnel - exploded several minutes apart in a rebel-held part of the city.

The first struck crowds mourning child victims of a similar attack earlier this week, while a second hit crowds that gathered after the first bombing, the British based monitor said.

The UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has urged the warring sides in Aleppo to approve safe delivery of vital supplies as soon as possible.

US - Russia talks fail to reach deal

Meanwhile the United States and Russia have failed to reach a deal for a 48-hour humanitarian truce in Aleppo, or wider military cooperation against Islamist extremists in Syria.

But the countries' foreign ministers, John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov, addressing a joint news conference after day-long talks in Geneva, said their respective experts would continue to hash out details in coming days in the Swiss city.

"We don't want to have a deal for the sake of the deal," Kerry said. "We want to have something done that is effective and that works for the people of Syria, that makes the region more stable and secure, and that brings us to the table here in Geneva to find a political solution."

Mr Kerry said the "vast majority'' of technical discussions had been completed. He added that experts would remain in Geneva to work on the unresolved steps in the coming days.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met in Geneva  to push for resuming Syrian peace talks.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met in Geneva to push for resuming Syrian peace talks. Photo: AFP

The difficulty in reaching agreement underlines how complex and fragmented Syria's five year conflict now is.

The United States and Russia have been trying to forge an unprecedented deal: sharing intelligence, even co-operating militarily, in a bid to bring a ceasefire to Syria, and ultimately restart peace negotiations.

All summer military specialists from both Moscow and Washington have been meeting off and on in Geneva, and it is believed there is a lot of common ground.

But the two big powers have to persuade the many different groups now fighting, and that is clearly proving difficult.

-BBC, AFP

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