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Published: Sunday, 11/10/2013

Syria activists say rebels reach deal with government to ease blockade of rebel-held town

ASSOCIATED PRESS

BEIRUT — Government officials and rebels reached a deal to ease a weeks-long blockade on a rebel-held town near the Syrian capital today, allowing food to reach civilians there for the first time in weeks, activists said.

The truce is the latest to be agreed in recent months between President Bashar Assad’s government and disparate rebel groups throughout the war-ravaged country.

It comes as the main Western-backed Syrian opposition began the second day of a two-day meeting in the Turkish capital Istanbul to decide whether they will attend a proposed peace conference the U.S. and Russia are trying to convene in Geneva. The Syrian National Coalition has consistently called for goodwill measures like lifting sieges on rebel-held areas.

It was not clear if the deal in Qudsaya was a gesture to Syria’s fractured opposition. Neither rebels nor Syrian officials comment on such deals, fearing they would be seen as tacitly recognizing the other side.

Activist group the Qudsaya Media Team confirmed the truce in a statement but gave few details. In an earlier November release, they said local markets had run out of food, and area’s poorest residents were going hungry. They could not be immediately reached for comment.

Rami Abdurrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the deal allowed food and flour for bread to enter the town on the outskirts of Damascus, under blockade since October. The Observatory follows Syria through a network of activists on the ground.

All warring sides in Syria’s conflict have blockaded towns to squeeze out fighters, but the most affected have been poor people struggling to buy food, the elderly, the sick and children.

In recent weeks, a variety of Syrian mediators have been trying to ease blockades in several areas, with modest success. That suggest the country’s warring parties are more ready now, than they have been in three years of fighting, to negotiate, if only over temporary truces.

Syria’s government is under pressure from the international community to allow food and medical aid into blockaded areas, particularly after reports emerged of widespread hunger in the blockaded Damascus suburb of Moadamiyeh this year. It appears civilian elders have also pressured rebels to accept truces.



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