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DARAA (Syria), July 15, 2018 (AFP) - Syrian rebels and their relatives began evacuating the southern city of Daraa on Sunday, an AFP correspondent and a monitor said, more than seven years after the country's ill-fated uprising erupted there.

The transfers were part of a ceasefire deal brokered by government ally Russia, and came after more than two weeks of ferocious bombardment of the city and surrounding province of the same name.

On Sunday, hundreds of fighters and some of their relatives, carrying suitcases packed with clothes, boarded around 15 buses in Daraa city, AFP's correspondent there said.

The vehicles were parked on a main thoroughfare connecting the city's government-held north with its rebel-held south.

The AFP correspondent said the buses were searched by Russian military forces before setting off just after midday for the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said an estimated 1,400 people were expected to be evacuated in a single group on Sunday.

They included rebels from the broader province, said the head of the Britain-based group, Rami Abdel Rahman.

"Buses began moving from the gathering point towards the edge of the city to be searched," Abdel Rahman told AFP.

After securing Damascus and outlying areas of the capital, President Bashar al-Assad's forces on June 19 launched a ferocious offensive against Daraa, with support from Russia.

Moscow and Damascus used a carrot-and-stick strategy to military take over some towns while securing the negotiated surrender of others.

They reached a deal with rebels in early July for all of Daraa province, then agreed on terms for the city on Wednesday.

Rebels began handing over their heavy weapons on Saturday and continued to do so on Sunday morning.

BEIRUT, July 15, 2018 (News Wires) - Syrian government forces seized a village in Quneitra province on Sunday, their first advance against insurgents in the region adjoining the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights since launching a major offensive in the southwest, a war monitor reported.

The village of Mashara, about 11 km, from the Golan frontier was captured after heavy shelling, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Government forces also shelled the town of al-Haara in neighbouring Deraa province, it said. The government, backed by the Russian military, has captured most of Deraa province in the operation that began in June.

DAMASCUS, July 14, 2018 (MENA) - The armed groups, positioned in Daraa al-Balad, began to hand over their heavy and medium weapons to the Syrian army as part of an agreement reached last Wednesday.

The process will continue until handing over all heavy and medium weapons by the armed groups, Syrian state-run news agency SANA reported.

The agreement, which includes the regions of Daraa al-Balad, al-Sad road, al-Mukhayam, Sajnah, al-Manshiyah and Gharz, stipulates handing over heavy and medium weapons to the Syrian army and settling the status of armed men who are willing for settlement.

MOSCOW, July 13, 2018 (MENA) - Russian military servicemen have delivered more than 10 tons of humanitarian aid to Syria’s Daraa Governorate that has been liberated from militants recently, Tass news agency reported on Friday.

"Today we are in the inhabited community of Dael, Daraa Governorate, and are once again ready to help the fraternal Syrian people," chief of the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Opposing Parties in Syria Alexei Tsygankov told reporters.

Russian officers have delivered food packages with rice and flour, personal hygiene products and drinking water.

"The fact that 20,000 people have returned to the city over the past week shows that life is returning to normal. Today the city has more than 40,000 residents," Tsygankov said, adding that prior to the war the city was home to 60,000 people.

 

CAIRO, July 12, 2018 - Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri attended a meeting of the mini-international group on Syria that took place in Belgium early Thursday.

The top diplomats of Britain, the US, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Jordan attended the meeting, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said.

Egypt was invited for the first time to the group's meeting in appreciation of the efforts it had been exerting to support the political settlement in Syria, Abu Zeid said.

Egypt also has opened communication channels with all Syrian parties involved in the stalemate, the spokesman said, citing Egypt's role in unifying the Syrian opposition factions and resuming political negotiations.

The talks tackled means of pushing forward the political settlement and the importance of releasing a call by United Nations envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura to hold the first meeting of the constitution-wording committee as a first step for resuming talks, which were suspended six months ago.

During the meeting, Shoukri reviewed Egypt's efforts to push forward a settlement of the Syrian crisis.

He underlined the importance of a swift political solution to the crisis, saying that this solution should maintain the unity of the Syrian lands and prevent foreign interference.

FM Shoukri highlighted the importance of maintaining the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group (Daesh) to deprive the group of the chance to find safe havens in the region, especially in North Africa or the Sahel and Sahara.

The Syrian government raised the national flag Thursday over areas of Deraa city that have been in rebel hands for years, a major victory for President Bashar al-Assad in the birthplace of the revolt against his rule.

State television said the army hoisted the flag near the post office, the only government building in the portion of the city that had been held by rebels since the early days of the uprising that began there in 2011 with large protests.

Government forces backed by Russian airstrikes have recovered swathes of Deraa province in the last three weeks, advancing unopposed by Assad’s Western and regional foes into the strategically vital region near Jordan and Israel.

It marks another milestone in Assad’s efforts to recover control of Syria, where civil war is estimated to have killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven some 11 million people from their homes.

The campaign in the southwest is now expected to target rebel-held enclaves at the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Israel signaled it would not impede the offensive, even as it struck Syrian army posts near the frontier in retaliation for a drone incursion.

With critical help from Russia and Iran, Assad has now recovered most of Syria. Anti-Assad rebels still control a chunk of the northwest, and the northeast and a large chunk of the east are controlled by Kurdish-led militia.

 

CAIRO, July 12, 2018 (MENA) - Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri attended a meeting of the mini-international group on Syria that took place in Belgium early Thursday.

The top diplomats of Britain, the US, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Jordan attended the meeting, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said.

Egypt was invited for the first time to the group's meeting in appreciation of the efforts it is exerting to support the political settlement in Syria, Abu Zeid said.

Egypt also has opened communication channels with all Syrian parties involved in the stalemate, he said, citing Egypt's role in unifying the Syrian opposition factions and resuming political negotiations.

The talks tackled means of pushing forward the political settlement and the importance of releasing a call by United Nations envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura to hold the first meeting of the constitution-wording committee as a first step for resuming talks, which were suspended six months ago.

During the meeting, Shoukri reviewed Egypt's efforts to push forward a settlement of the Syrian crisis.

He underlined the importance of a swift political solution to the crisis, expounding that this solution should maintain the unity of the Syrian lands and prevent foreign interference. 

Shoukri highlighted the importance of maintaining the fight against Daesh to deprive the group of the chance to find safe havens in the region, especially in North Africa or the Sahel and Sahara.

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