Dozens of Syrian rebels and their families departed aboard buses from an area besieged by government forces bordering the Israeli Golan Heights early Saturday in part of a deal to clear yet another district of anti-regime insurgents.
The Beit Jinn area was the last significant rebel-held enclave southwest of Damascus. Its surrender allowed President Bashar Assad to reassert control over the Syrian Golan.
The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said 153 people, including 106 fighters, left the village of Beit Jinn early Saturday toward the southern province of Daraa.
The Ibaa news agency of the al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee said six buses carrying fighters and their families arrived in rebel-held parts of Daraa province.
On Friday, Syria’s state news agency SANA said some 300 al-Qaeda-linked militants and their families would be sent to Daraa and the northwestern province of Idlib.
The evacuation allows the government to reassert control over Beit Jinn near the Golan Heights, captured by Israel from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War.
On Tuesday Reuters had reported that the besieged rebels had been ordered by surrounding regime forces to surrender or face defeat.
“They were given 72 hours to surrender with fighters to go to [rebel-held] Idlib or those who want to stay have to reach a settlement,” said a Free Syrian Arm official said.
Rebels situated in Beit Jinn faced Syrian military forces as well as Iranian-backed militias and the Hezbollah terrorist group. Fierce fighting had been reported in the area in recent days as the forces backing President Bashar Assad advanced on the rebels.
Israel has publicly warned against the accumulation of Iranian and Iranian-backed forces at its border. Iran has arranged for thousands of militiamen from across the region to fight on behalf of Assad’s government and has sent top commanders to direct its own Revolutionary Guards in the country as well.