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Daraya: a symbol of resilience Open in fullscreen

Imogen Lambert

Daraya: a symbol of resilience

Civilians are forced to leave their homes in Daraya [Getty]

Date of publication: 26 August, 2016

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A small town on the outskirts of Damascus managed to hold off the Syrian regime for five years. On Friday, after a punishing siege, Daraya was forced to surrender.
During the 2011 Syrian revolution, protesters came out to demonstrate in Daraya with flowers.

The regime responded by killing demonstrators, and imposing a brutal siege and bombardment on the city that came to symbolise the resilience of Syrians, and their determination to see the revolution through.

Sadly, on Friday – five years later – tearful residents were forced to evacuate the Damascus suburb after making what could be the final visits to their relatives' grave stones.

Besieged

It comes after a controversial truce was agreed between regime and opposition forces to evacuate the town and hand over control to Damascus.

Most civilians want to leave their homes it appears, rather than risk the wrath or suspicion of regime forces and intelligence services just for living in the opposition-held suburb.

"Over the next four days, 5,000 civilians will be moved to Damascus suburbs," said a member of Daraya's local council who declined to be named.

Sadly, on Friday – five years later – tearful residents were forced to evacuate the Damascus suburb after making what could be the final visits to their relatives' grave stones.

The fighters and families will head towards opposition-controlled Idlib.

Footage showed busloads of civilians leaving Daraya who were surrounded by Syrian government troops who taunted them with the regime loyalist slogan, "Allah, Syria, Bashar only."

"We have done everything we can done everything over the past years to fulfil the dreams of our people and our families, and have tried to keep our city," the council member added.

There are around 8,300 civilians in Daraya in addition to hundreds of fighters. Around 4,000 from Daraya reside in the neighbouring town of Moadamiyah al-Sham.

We have done everything we can done everything over the past years to fulfil the dreams of our people and our families, and have tried to keep our city
- Member of Daraya's local council

"Thank you Daraya, your resilience is eternal."Before the war there was a population of 250,000. After five years of bombardment, siege and attacks by militias around 75 percent of the population fled.

"Thank you for showing us that what a small bunch of people can do when standing up against tyranny wherever it comes from," wrote The Syria Campaign in a message to the town's residents.

"Thank you for showing your resilience when your children were starved, your hospitals bombed, your brothers and sisters disappeared for demanding their freedom and dignity, and when napalm was dropped on what remains of your town."

The armed opposition factions, dominated by the Free Syrian Army reached an agreement to end confrontations with the regime and will be transferred elsewhere to Syria.

The negotiations began two days ago before a ceasefire was declared when a delegation from the regime entered to negotiate with existing factions from the city.

"Families in Daraya are living on one meal a day, without baby milk and break. There is a lack of medicine and equipment to treat chronic conditions," the council said member said. The local official said that the desperate situation for civilians led to the truce.

Fighting on

While surrounding towns of Damascus surrendered to the regime early this year, Daraya stayed fighting in dire circumstances.

The town was especially known for its protests held by women and children pleading for aid.

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said it was "tragic that repeated appeals to lift the siege of Daraya... and cease the fighting, have never been heeded."

It was "imperative" that Daraya's residents be protected and only voluntarily evacuated, the UN envoy said.

"The world is watching," he said.

However, many have accused the UN of being complicit in what many are dubbing the "ethnic cleansing" of Daraya, as the regime and her backers attempt to cleanse Syria's cities and surrounding areas of Sunni residents – the demographic that makes up the bulk of those opposed to Assad.

"The UN has entered Daraya only after it's emptied of people," wrote journalist Ibrahim Jabin.

"During the negotiations, the regime delegation threatened to exterminate all those who refused to leave Daraya, and refused [to allow] civilians [to] stay," said local media activist "Hussam."

Betrayal

UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura said that the eventual political solution could be found with the help of "local ceasefires" which – it is argued – bring peace, temporary, to bombarded and besieged areas.

However, Syrians say that this forces them out of their homes and cities, and allows Assad to gain further ground in opposition-held regions.

Many have accused the UN of being complicit in what many are dubbing the 'ethnic cleansing' of Daraya

Yet the UN has denied being consulted on the deal that led to the evacuation of Daraya.

Social media users shared a photo of Daraya residents visiting the grave of loved ones before being forced from their homes. It led many say that they have said farewell to their families twice – when they died, and when they were forced to leave their graves.

There was some divergences of opinions surrounding the truce.  Some residents were simply relieved that the five-year struggle was over, others felt let down by opposition factions who had finally given up defending the town.

Many felt that the situation had reached a point where little else could be done, and that all – including Syrians, and other opposition factions – had been guilty of neglecting the town's plight.

"Daraya is the undisputed capital of the revolution, however everyone has let her down," one Syrian resident "Qassam" wrote on Twitter.

"Shame on all of us, since the 25th August 2012 to this day," wrote Luay Abdul Hadi, Syrian journalist. This was a reference to a massacre of around 250 people four years ago, including at least 80 women and children.

"Daraya, a city of dignity, has paid a heavy price for demanding freedom,' Daraya's Local Cordination Committee said at the time.

Daraya continued to pay a heavy price under the weight of barrel bombs and other regime abuses. Unlike other areas of Syria, other militant factions never found their way to Daraya, which was dominated by the Free Syrian Army.

However, following an alleged cut to the group's support by the US, the moderate FSA has been weakened.

It comes as the US and Russia – the regime's biggest international supporter – appeared to reach a consensus on Syria, and could have contributed to the semi-forced dispersal of Syrians in Daraya.

"Thank you for showing that you have more integrity in your little finger than all the silent politicians of the world," wrote The Syria Campaign.

"Our profound sadness today is only surpassed by our gratitude for you in showing us what it means to be human.

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