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Over 2,600 militants lay down arms in Syria’s Damascus province

The majority of settlements in the region have joined the reconciliation process

DAMASCUS, January 26. /TASS/. Residents of the Wadi Barada River valley, a region, which supplies water to Syria’s Damascus province are finally returning to normal civilian life. More than 2,600 gunmen that were active there have laid down their arms. Those who refused to return to a ‘normal’ life have been evacuated by the authorities to the Idlib province with their families, Colonel Alexander Blinkov, Spokesman for the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Warring Parties in Syria, told reporters.

"The local population in the Wada Barada valley is returning to a peaceful civilian life," he said. "Steps are currently being taken as part of the first stage of a comprehensive reconciliation plan in this area. To date, more than 2,600 people have already legalized their status. Hardcore opposition members who refused to surrender weapons are leaving for the Idlib province with their families with the assistance of the Syrian authorities." The militants who are filing to adjust their legal status have joined self-defense units.

"The population continues to receive humanitarian aid and basic necessities, such as food packages and medicines," Blinkov stated.

He noted that some extremist-bent opposition members, who refused to lay down their arms, are hiding in the mountainous areas and continue to shell the adjacent areas and populated localities from time to time hindering civilians’ return to a normal life. "The Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Warring Parties has stepped up efforts, primarily ideological, to persuade the militants remaining in this area that settling the reconciliation issue is only possible by returning to the peace talks," he said.

The majority of settlements in the region have joined the reconciliation process.

Lines at reconciliation points

Civilian life is presently being restored. "Recently, a great number of militants have come to realize the need to return to a peaceful routine and live a normal life like all the rest under our flag," said Osama al-Almari, the head of administration of the village of Ain El-Fijeh. People come to specially arranged reconciliation points to legalize their status, get benefits and so on. There are hundreds of people waiting in line.

Militants come there too. "I’ve come here to return to civilian life. The whole country is awaiting peace," one of them said.

Some of the gunmen who have legalized their status have joined the ranks of pro-government forces. One of them is Adek Agil, a former commander of a militant group who is now in command of a local self-defense unit. "I fought against the government troops. Eventually, I realized that this is wrong. They (militants - TASS) deceived us," he said. "That was a mistake, and I regret it. That is why I sided with the government forces to live as before."

People in the valley hope that the conflict will be resolved soon, the militants will leave the area and it will be possible to return to civilian life and live in a peaceful atmosphere. They also hope that tourists will return to the area, said Mahmoud Haydar, head of the administration of the Deir Qanoun populated locality. "A normal life has returned to our village after a long war. Now, all departments in our inhabited locality - medical services, schools, various bodies under government control - are functioning properly," he said.

Strategic area

Wadi Barada is a strategically important area providing cities in the Damascus province with water. In February 2012, it was seized by Free Syrian Army gunmen. In January 2017, the militants lost some important heights and then pressed for a truce. During the talks, agreements were reached on restoring the Damascus water supply infrastructure, evacuating those militants, who are not involved in the ceasefire agreement on Idlib and surrendering militants’ weapons. Currently, there are no hostilities in the valley. About 500 gunmen remain in the Wadi Barada area. Negotiations on their evacuation are in progress.