Syrian government forces and armed opposition groups have reached an agreement to evacuate rebel fighters and residents from the Qaboun neighbourhood of Damascus, as the Syrian army and its allies continue to advance in areas in and around the capital.
The evacuation, which is scheduled to take place on Sunday, will see rebels and civilians move to Idlib, an opposition stronghold in northwestern Syria.
Syria’s state news agency, Sana, reported on Saturday that the agreement had been reached after rebels surrendered following intense clashes in Qaboun.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimated that government forces have taken back most of the neighbourhood, leaving around 20 percent still under the control of rebel groups Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam and the Rahman Corps.
The news of the deal comes just two days after hundreds of Syrian rebels and their families left a besieged Damascus suburb on Friday, the second group to do so as part of a local evacuation agreement with the government.
SANA said 1,246 people, of whom 718 were fighters, left the Barzeh and neighbouring Tishreen districts northeast of Damascus, and near the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta pocket of towns and farms, which has been blockaded by government forces since 2013.
The Observatory said about 700 people left on Friday, including about 150 fighters.
The first batch of evacuations from Barzeh happened on Monday.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has promoted the use of such evacuations, along with what his government calls “reconciliation” deals for rebel-held areas that surrender to the government, as a way of reducing bloodshed in the six-year-old civil war.
However, the United Nations has criticised both the use of siege tactics, which precede such deals, and the evacuations themselves as amounting to forcible displacement.
The Syrian army has been steadily defeating pockets of rebellion near the capital, with the help of Russian air power and Iranian-backed armed groups.
The army offensive entered a higher gear in recent months in Barzeh and Qaboun, ending a local truce that had been in place with rebels there since 2014 and shutting access to a network of underground tunnels which supplied besieged eastern Ghouta, causing supplies to dwindle and prices to rocket.
Similar evacuation deals in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, also situated in southern Damascus, have fallen through time and again.
The Syrian conflict started as an uprising against Assad in March 2011, but it quickly morphed into a full-scale civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.