Sat, Apr 15, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Civilians, militants leave Syrian towns in state evacuation


Syrian security personnel speak do a driver at a checkpoint in eastern Aleppo, Syria, yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Hundreds of civilians and fighters who have been under crippling siege for more than two years left four Syrian towns in fleets of buses yesterday under a delayed evacuation deal.

Men, women and children packed onto the buses, expressing despair at leaving their homes with no way of knowing when they might return.

“When I first went onto the bus, I broke down from sadness; I fell on the ground and they had to help me,” said Abu Hussein, a resident of the government-held town of Fuaa. “I just couldn’t bear it.”

The deal to evacuate Syrian government-held Fuaa and Kafraya, and rebel-held Madaya and Zabadani is the latest in a string of such agreements through Syria’s six-year civil war.

They have been touted by the government as the best way to end the fighting, but rebels say they are forced out by siege and bombardment.

Critics say deals are permanently changing the ethnic and religious map, but in an interview on Wednesday Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that the evacuations were only temporary and people would return once the “terrorists” had been defeated.

The evacuation of the four towns had been due to start on Tuesday last week, but implementation of the deal brokered by rebel supporter Qatar and regime ally Iran late last month was repeatedly delayed.

At least 80 buses left Fuaa and Kafraya in Idlib Province in the northwest, a correspondent in rebel-held territory said.

They arrived at a marshaling point in Rashidin, west of the government-held city of Aleppo, followed by 20 ambulances.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 5,000 people had left the two towns, including 1,300 pro-government fighters.

The pro-government Al Watan newspaper said 3,000 more were to follow in a second convoy last night.

Dozens of rebel fighters, including from al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate, Fateh al-Sham Front, stood guard at the marshaling point, the correspondent reported.

The evacuees were all searched when they reached government-held territory.

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