BEIRUT — The Syrian government evacuated some 5,000 people Sunday from an embattled industrial town near Damascus where al-Qaida-linked rebels have been battling government troops for more than two weeks, the state news agency said.
Opposition fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, swept into Adra northeast of the capital in mid-December, reportedly killing civilians, many of whom are members of the Alawite and Druse sects. Both minority communities largely support President Bashar Assad, who himself is an Alawite, against the primarily Sunni-led rebellion.
Shortly after the rebels pushed into Adra, Syrian soldiers surrounded the area and there has been heavy fighting there since.
On Sunday, Minister for Social Affair Kinda al-Shammat said more than 5,000 people were evacuated from the town. In a statement carried by the SANA state news agency, Shammat said the people have been moved to a safe place, and the ministry has established operation rescue rooms to offer aid and support.
Meanwhile, an activist group said the death toll from nearly two weeks of Syrian government airstrikes on opposition-held areas of the northern city of Aleppo has surpassed 500.