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Truce agreed in besieged town near Damascus

AFP , Wednesday 25 Dec 2013
Syria
A man with a weapon slung behind him walks along a damaged street in the Harasta area of eastern al-Ghouta, near Damascus December 24, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
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The Syrian government and rebels in a besieged town near Damascus have reached a landmark truce agreement to allow aid access to trapped civilians, an activist told AFP on Wednesday.

Under the truce in Moadamiyet al-Sham, the official flag was raised over the area on Wednesday and will be flown for 72 hours, in exchange for much-needed food supplies for thousands of trapped civilians, said Abu Malek of the town's opposition Local Council.

"A truce came into force on Wednesday, and the people have accepted as a gesture of goodwill to fly the regime flag over the town's water towers," Abu Malek said via the Internet.

"Food should be allowed into the town on Thursday. If this goes well, we will hand over the heavy weapons, but the regime army will not enter the town," he added.

"Then in the next phase, people who were displaced should be allowed to return home, without being arrested, and the checkpoints around the city must be removed," said Abu Malek.

A source close to President Bashar al-Assad's regime confirmed that there had been a truce agreement, but said the army would enter into the town in order to ensure all the weapons had been handed over.

According to Abu Malek, Moadamiyet al-Sham residents are divided over the agreement.

Some believe "it is more important to feed the civilian women and children," while another, more radical section of the opposition, does not want to be perceived as giving in, he said.

"But either way the revolution continues, and we will see what the regime has to offer. If they honour the conditions, then very well. If not, then it will be back to fighting," said Abu Malek.

He noted that on Wednesday, there was no shelling on the town for the first time in many months.

In October, some 3,800 civilians were evacuated from Moadamiyet al-Sham by the Red Crescent in coordination with the Syrian authorities and the opposition.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Moadamiyet al-Sham was originally home to some 15,000 people.

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