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Jihadists 'to quit south Damascus suburbs': sources


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Le camp de réfugiés palestiniens de Yarmouk, détruit et déserté en raison de l'offensive du groupe Etat islamique, le 6 avril 2015 à Damas
AFPLe camp de réfugiés palestiniens de Yarmouk, détruit et déserté en raison de l'offensive du groupe Etat islamique, le 6 avril 2015 à Damas

Estimated 18,000 people are trapped in Yarmouk, a place described by Ban Ki-Moon as 'deepest circle of hell'

Some 4,000 people, half of them jihadist fighters, will leave three besieged districts south of Syria's capital at the weekend as part of a landmark ceasefire, sources said on Friday.

Militants from the Islamic State jihadist group and its rival, Al-Qaida's Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front, will reportedly quit the districts of Qadam, Hajar al-Aswad and the besieged Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk.

"An agreement was reached whereby 4,000 fighters and civilians, including members of Al-Nusra and IS, would leave" the neighborhoods on Saturday, one government official close to the negotiations said.

They would then be transported to the northern cities of Raqqa, held by IS, and Marea which is controlled by Islamists and Al-Nusra, the official said.

The second phase of the deal would see government institutions reopen in the neighborhoods and "the necessities of daily life would be secured", the official said.

There are an estimated 18,000 people believed to be trapped in Yarmouk, a place described by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as the "deepest circle of Hell."

UNRWA/AFPRefugees gathering for aid parcels in Yarmouk refugee camp.

It will be the first time in more than two years that market goods have been able to be sent in to the three southern districts, which have been under a crippling government siege.

IS militants attacked the Yarmouk Palestinian camp in April, fighting Al-Nusra units there for control.

The jihadists then overran parts of Qadam in August after launching an attack from their base in nearby Hajar al-Aswad.

Their advance into Qadam had brought them closer than ever to central Damascus.

The ceasefire deal comes after two months of intense negotiations between Syria's government and district leaders, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one local leader in Qadam said "every fighter will be allowed to leave with his family and one suitcase and his personal weapon".

The areas are already in the process of being demilitarised.

Anwar Amro (AFP)
Anwar Amro (AFP)A pro-regime fighter jumps through a window in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, on September 12, 2013

A Syrian army unit entered Qadam on Thursday to confiscate heavy weapons and military equipment used by the jihadists, a security source on the ground said.

Eighteen buses had also crossed into the neighborhood in preparation for Saturday's evacuation, which would include "2,000 combattants, mostly jihadists", he added.

Local ceasefires have been implemented in other parts of Syria with varying degrees of success.

Typically, towns or villages under siege agree to a truce in exchange for humanitarian aid and the evacuation of wounded civilians and fighters.

A similar deal earlier this month in the central city of Homs saw 2,000 rebels and civilians leave the last opposition-held neighborhood.

Mohammad al-Omari, a representative of Syria's reconciliation ministry, told AFP that the "first phase of the deal will have a positive effect on Yarmuk and all of the southern areas".

He said he hoped a "larger reconciliation process" would allow some 1.8 million people to return to the southern suburbs of Damascus.

A United Nations representative in Damascus told AFP the UN had no role in the negotiations or developments in the southern suburbs of the capital.

(staff with agencies)

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