President Assad consolidates grip on Damascus after second suburb starved into submission

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President Bashar al-Assad has consolidated his grip on the Syrian capital of Damascus after the second rebel-held suburb in a week surrendered to government forces. 

Hundreds of residents of Moadamiyeh were evacuated and fighters handed over their weapons after a truce put an end to more than three years of regime siege.

The government had issued an ultimatum to the some 30,000 people remaining to leave within 72 hours or face the consequences. 

Soldiers searched the suitcases of the first few women and children out, checking their names against a list.

Civilians will be moved to government-controlled areas of Damascus, while fighters and activists will be sent to rebel-held areas across Syria. 

Daraya, on the southern outskirts of the capital, fell to the regime last week under a similar agreement.

The two enclaves had been potent symbols of the uprising against President Assad.

Moadamiyeh suffered greatly for its rebellion. Residents were starved and gassed with toxic nerve agent Sarin in August 2013, in an attack which killed hundreds and led to an international drive to remove and destroy the Syrian government’s chemical weapons stocks.

Dani Qappani, a 28-year-old activist and resident of the suburb, said the loss dealt a major psychological blow to the opposition, but the situation had grown too difficult.

We were forced to agree. It’s not our choice to leave, he told the Telegraph. Imagine yourself on an island surrounded by ocean and the water is slowly closing in on you. Then the sea threatens you, ‘leave on a boat or I will come faster and you’ll drown with your kids’. What would you decide?

He said he and his family will be sent to the either Idlib or opposition-held areas of Aleppo. 

“Daraya is a domino and others will fall,” Ali Haidar, Syrian National Reconciliation Minister, predicted, adding that such areas could not “remain isolated cantons that pose a threat to the state”.

Assad has in recent months suffered considerable setbacks in Syria’s second city of Aleppo and Hassakeh in the north.

The defence of Damascus, his seat of power, is pivotal for his survival. Having control of swathes of uncontested territory around the capital helps strengthen his position. 

Jan Egeland, coordinator of the UN humanitarian task force in Syria, voiced concern over the forced mass evacuations.

A siege is not broken by giving up after bombing and starvation, he said. It is lifted by humanitarian access and freedom of movement in and out by the civilian population. There is, at the moment, a militarisation of the conflict and we are being routinely blocked.

It is really sad to think of what the residents went through over these years (…) I feel I failed them.

News Source TelegraphNews

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