The Syrian government evacuated some 5,000 people Sunday from an embattled industrial town near Damascus where al-Qaeda-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 al-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.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday the aerial campaign killed at least 517 people, including 151 children and 46 women, as of midnight Saturday. The Observatory monitors the conflict through a network of activists on the ground.
Government aircraft have pummelled rebel neighbourhoods of the divided city since Dec. 15, often with crude barrel bombs that cause massive damage upon impact. The assault has flooded hospitals with casualties, putting a significant strain on already strapped resources.
The Syrian government hasn't commented on the campaign.