Rebels and families leave Wadi Barada for Idlib

Hundreds of Syrian rebel fighters and their families have been evacuated out of the strategic valley near Damascus to the province of Idlib, marking another major victory for the Syrian regime.

A month-long offensive against opposition fighters in Wadi Barada ended on Sunday when the government captured the valley, where a major spring supplies most of the capital’s water.

More than five million residents have been without water for more than a month after an attack on the ain al-Fijeh springs, which both sides blamed on the other.

The valley is of strategic importance for both the government, which wants to gain control of the whole of Damascus and its surroundings, and for the rebels, as it had served as an important bargaining chip.

The terms of the agreement demanded a ceasefire and the entrance of twenty regime-loyal soldiers to the Ein al-Fijah water facility, then followed by ambulances to evacuate those wounded. Under a deal with authorities, rebels could choose to stay and give up their weapons or be sent to Idlib, the opposition’s last major stronghold in northern Syria. So far 1,142 fighters and 760 members of their families have been evacuated by bus to Idlib.

After very modest progress at peace talks in Kazakhstan both sides are expected to meet in Geneva next month, where they will discuss a political solution to ending the war.