Thousands flee Syrian town after rare cease-fire deal

Action comes as Syrian war causes ongoing humanitarian and diplomatic crises

Men wait to be searched by the Syrian military after they have crossed from the rebel-held suburb of Moadamiyeh to government-held territory on Oct. 29, 2013 in Syria.

Nearly 2,000 Syrians fled the war-ravaged Damascus district of Moadamiyeh on Tuesday. They were able to leave safely thanks to the help of aid workers and a rare temporary cease-fire agreement between government and rebel forces.

After reports of starvation and disease in the western suburb triggered an international outcry, rebels and the Syrian government decided that the residents of the town should be able to leave before fighting resumes.

Syrian troops have resorted to blockades of rebel-held neighborhoods in an effort to flush out fighters, keeping food and supplies from entering.

Moadamiyeh was also one of several areas hit by a chemical weapons attack in August that killed hundreds of people.

United Nations inspectors are in Syria carrying out a plan to destroy the country's chemical weapons arsenal — a plan which was brokered by the U.S. and Russia in response to the deadly August attack, but which does not have any bearing on conventional weapons being used to wage war.

Famished men, women and children carried their belongings out of Moadamiyeh on Tuesday.

Some of the elderly and sick were carried by Red Crescent workers on stretchers. Men were lined up and searched by the Syrian military.

"We didn't see a piece of bread for nine months," one woman told the BBC. "We were eating leaves and grass."

Akhil Iad, a government official at the scene, said the evacuated civilians were taken to temporary shelters. About 3,000 residents of the suburb were also able to flee the area in late August during another cease-fire.

Moadamiyeh isn't the only town facing a humanitarian crisis because of Syria's civil war, which has so far claimed more than 100,000 lives.

On Monday, the World Health Organization confirmed a polio outbreak had occurred in Deir al-Zor, north of Damascus. Twenty-two people are now suspected to have the disease, which is incurable. It's the first outbreak in Syria in 14 years.

The civil war is continuing to reverberate throughout the Middle East and the world as well.

Syria fired its deputy prime minister, Qadri Jamil, on Tuesday because he met with U.S. officials over the weekend without government permission, the official SANA news agency said.

U.S. and Middle East officials told Reuters that Jamil met with Robert Ford, U.S. pointman for Syria and former American ambassador to the country, in Switzerland over the weekend to discuss the proposed "Geneva 2" peace talks.

And yesterday, Saudi Arabia's grand mufti, the highest religious authority in the birthplace of Islam, urged young Saudis to refrain from fighting in Syria.

The kingdom has backed the rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad, publicly calling on the world powers to "enable" Syrians to protect themselves, but is wary that fighters could return home ready to wage war on their own dynastic rulers.

"This is all wrong, it's not obligatory," Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh said, in reference to Saudi men joining a civil war that is now in well into its third year, according to pan-Arab daily al-Hayat.

"These are feuding factions, and one should not go there. I do not advise one to go there. ... Going to a land that you do not know and without experience, you will be a burden to them, what they want from you is your prayer."

Al Jazeera and wire services

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