01:30 - Source: CNN
Thousands evacuate besieged city of Daraya

Story highlights

An agreement between the government and rebels allows safe passage

The deal marks a victory for Assad's regime, as rebels cede territory

The city has been under siege for four years

CNN  — 

Buses packed with people rumbled past bombed-out buildings in the Damascus suburb of Daraya Saturday.

An evacuation agreement reached between the government and rebels gave thousands of civilians and hundreds of fighters safe passage out of the besieged city, the state-run Syrian Arab news Agency reported.

They began leaving Friday, after a convoy of Red Crescent ambulances arrived in the early morning in Daraya, which is just southwest of Syria’s capital, Damascus.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based group that monitors the conflict, said Saturday it was informed by reliable sources that five vehicles carrying fighters and their families have reached the city of Idlib.

It also said a second group of civilians from Daraya left the city by bus.

The evacuation operation is continuing Saturday under the supervision of the United Nations and the Red Crescent, the observatory said.

SANA, citing one of its reporters, said buses entered the city Saturday “to evacuate more people and gunmen.” Some buses transported families toward “makeshift centers.” Others drove gunmen and their families toward Idlib “after being searched at army checkpoints.”

Video from the scene showed tearful residents hugging as they bid each other farewell.

Photos shared on social media showed residents carrying their belongings along the streets of the heavily damaged town, which has faced food and water shortages.

Others took the time to say goodbye by posting selfies.

Besieged city

Daraya was essentially cut off from normal food and water supplies in 2012 as the government tried to regain control of the opposition stronghold.

It’s a tactic, dubbed “starve or surrender,” that the Syrian government has been accused of using in a number of locations.

In June, activists said the Syrian regime pounded the besieged city with barrel bombs just hours after food aid was delivered to the area for the first time in almost four years.

The evacuation marks a victory for the Syrian regime, as rebels ceded an area they’d been defending for years.

Microcosm of conflict

Daraya has become a microcosm of the conflict in Syria.

Protests against Bashar al-Assad’s government broke out there in 2011. They were peaceful, but slowly the demonstrations turned into an armed struggle.

In 2012, troops loyal to Assad surrounded and besieged the suburb, where several hundred thousand people lived at the time.

During one weekend, opposition activists said more than 200 people were massacred there.

11:23 - Source: CNN
Life in Daraya, Syria, before massacre

Over the next four years, barrel bombs blasted the city. The population dwindled.

The 4,000 civilians evacuating under the agreement will be taken to temporary housing centers in the Damascus province, Syria’s state-run SANA news agency said.

The deal also gives safe passage to hundreds of rebel fighters, who will be transported to Idlib, in the northwestern part of the country.

CNN’s Angela Dewan and Hamdi Alkhshali contributed to this report.