After four years of siege and bombardment, residents of the rebel-held Syrian town of Daraya struck a deal Thursday with the Syrian government that amounted to a surrender of territory deeply symbolic to both sides.
Under the agreement, the government will evacuate Daraya’s remaining residents — about 8,000 people — in exchange for control of the town, which is less than two miles from the center of the capital, Damascus.
Daraya, one of the first areas to stage peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011 and to face a violent response, is a rare example of a community where even now, after more than five years of war, rebel groups accept the authority of a civilian local council.
Hussam Zyadeh, who fled Daraya in 2013, summed up the ambivalence of ending the fight amid a feeling that the world had stopped caring and had provided no help. “No more barrels on #Daraya,” he wrote on Twitter, referring to barrel bombs. “No more death no more fight no more revolution no more dignity no more #humanity as the whole world left it alone.”
Word of the agreement — a week after incendiary bombs left the town’s only remaining hospital out of commission — came as a single airstrike by the government or its Russian allies killed 14 people, 11 of them children and the others women, in the northern city of Aleppo, doctors there said.
The deaths in Aleppo served as a stark illustration of the relentless bombing that had pressed Daraya to make a deal after holding out for four years, the harsh underbelly of great-power politics in Syria. Russia, the government’s most powerful ally, has tacitly backed and sometimes taken part in Mr. Assad’s scorched-earth attacks even as it calls, in diplomatic venues, for a political solution. And American officials have continued to express hope that Russia is sincere, and to support some rebel groups just enough to keep the war going but not enough for them to win or even shift the balance of power.
Pictures of the carnage in Aleppo showed two young brothers, one wearing glasses and coated with gray dust, hugging each other and wailing as they mourned a third brother; an infant’s pale, gray, disfigured body; and the head and torso of an apparently lifeless girl, the rest of her body submerged in rubble.
“There are about four houses on the ground,” Abdulkafi al-Hamdo, an anti-government activist in Aleppo, said by text message after visiting the scene. “As reported by the neighbors, one of the families were having a late breakfast. They were buried with their food.”
This summer has been one of the deadliest periods yet in Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city and commercial capital, divided since 2012 between rebel and government territory.
Over the past several years, the government’s superior firepower has created greater devastation on the rebel side. Some rebel groups have stepped up attacks in recent months with powerful homemade rockets. In July, according to one monitoring group, 50 children were killed on the government side by rebel mortars, and 100 were killed on the rebel side by government strikes.
United Nations officials said Russia had agreed in principle to a 48-hour cease-fire to deliver aid to both sides of Aleppo and to make repairs to restore water service. Rebels had yet to agree, saying aid coming from Turkey should travel through rebel territory, not on a government-controlled road as planned, to avoid giving the government a veto on deliveries.
The deal in Daraya was portrayed by the Syrian state media as a magnanimous victory and by government opponents as a bitter but necessary surrender. The town was surrounded and besieged in 2012, not long after residents described a knife massacre by pro-government militias that killed hundreds of people. Since then, the government has allowed just two United Nations aid deliveries, both in June, taking in mosquito nets and shampoo when some people were ill because of lack of food.
“People got tired after years of siege which drained the town and people,” Amjad Abbar, a member of the local council, said via an internet call, adding that many rebels wanted to keep fighting, “but it is not in the interest of the people.”
One rebel said in a voice message that a representative of the president’s office had told negotiators that it was their last chance: “If we don’t leave, they will kill them all, the civilians.”
In the coming days, fighters will be bused to insurgent-held territory in Idlib province in northern Syria, and several thousand civilians to government-held Damascus suburbs, according to copies of the deal shared by both sides — an acknowledgment from the government that a significant civilian population remained, something that officials had long denied.
On Thursday, residents shared photographs of themselves paying a last visit to the crowded graveyard where friends and relatives killed in the war were buried.
Some Damascus suburbs had struck cease-fire deals before, but this agreement was the first in the Damascus area to envision a complete emptying of a town. For people in nearby holdout suburbs, it was ominous.
“We might have the same scenario here,” Hassan Tabajo, of the rebel-held suburb of Douma, said in a text message after posting an online farewell to Daraya’s residents.
“Don’t be sad, you’ve done what you can,” he wrote. “Wishing you all the safety, asking you for forgiveness, because we were powerless.”