Aid convoys arranged by the medical charity Red Crescent have entered the besieged Syrian town of Daraya as hundreds of rebel fighters prepared to lay down their arms after ceding control of the area to government forces.
A convoy of Red Crescent ambulances reached Daraya early on Friday, a town located just a few kilometres from President Bashar al-Assad's Damascus palace and the government-held Mazzeh airbase.
On Thursday, Syrian state news agency SANA announced a deal had been struck for the evacuation of civilians and fighters in the town.
Sources told Al Jazeera that around 8,000 civilians and 800 rebels would be evacuated from the Damascus suburb, which before the war was home to a quarter of a million people.
Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkish side of the Syria-Turkey border, said the rebels were "forced to signed the deal.
"For nearly four years, residents of Daraya have lived under siege, with civilians being starved to death by government forces. This is a deal that the rebels had to sign and we will now see civilians moved to Sahnaya - a town in Damascus governorate - under regime control.
The rebels, meanwhile, will then be taken to northern Idlib, held by the Army of Conquest, a coalition of armed anti-government groups, our correspondent said.
The rebels who controlled Daraya belonged to two rebel groups: Ajnad al-Sham and the Martyrs of Islam, groups allied with the Army of Conquest.
However, activists told Al Jazeera that they were extremely concerned over the safety of civilians, many of whom are relatives of the rebels, as the government offered little to no guarantees.
Some opposition groups also criticised the deal, calling it a major setback as Sunnis would be forced from their homes, further fracturing the country along sectarian lines.
"This is a pattern by the government to push Sunnis out of communities they control and have been living in for decades. In 2015, there was a similar deal in Zabadani on the outskirts of the capital," our correspondent added.
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In 2012, several hundred people were killed in Daraya, including civilians, many execution-style, when security forces stormed the suburb after locals took up arms.
According to the United Nations, nearly 600,000 live under siege across Syria, most surrounded by government forces.
In several places, lengthy government sieges have prompted rebels to agree evacuation deals with the regime, leading activists to accuse Damascus of using "starve or surrender" tactics.
Source: Al Jazeera News