Syrian Government Takes Control Of Former Rebel-Held Towns

Syrian Government Takes Control Of Former Rebel-Held Towns

 After the evacuation of rebels and their families, the towns of Zabadani, Madaya and Buqein returned to Syrian government control on Wednesday (April 19).

Madaya and neighboring Buqein showed no sign of major damage and people walked the streets. Residents said living conditions had been hard, but welcomed the return of some semblance of normality.

The last rebels in the town of Zabadani near Damascus have either departed for insurgent-held regions or accepted government rule, pro-government media reported on Wednesday, part of a reciprocal evacuation deal for besieged areas.

Under the deal between rebels and the Syrian government, insurgents and their families from Zabadani and Madaya near Damascus crossed to rebel-held territory, while civilians and pro-government fighters from the Shia villages near Idlib were taken by bus to government-controlled Aleppo.

The agreement underlines Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's upper hand in the war, as more rebel fighters opt to leave areas they have defended for years in deals that amount to negotiated withdrawals to other parts of the country.

The Syrian government has described such deals as a "workable model" that brings the country closer to peace after six years of conflict. But the opposition decries them as a tactic of forcibly displacing people who oppose Assad after years of bombardment and siege.