Saturday, June 25, 2022

Thousands of Syria evacuees stuck on road as deal falters

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Militants and members of their families from Madaya and Zabadani board buses heading to Ramousseh crossing, in Aleppo, on April 14, 2017, as part of a deal between the opposition and the Syrian government. Nearly 16,000 people are due to leave the Shia-populated towns of Fuaa and Kefraya, in exchange of the transfer of militants and their families out of the Sunni-majority towns of Zabadani and Madaya. More than 30,000 people are expected to be evacuated under the deal, which began on Wednesday with an exchange of prisoners. George OURFALIAN / AFP

Thousands of Syrians being evacuated from four besieged towns were still stuck on the road on Saturday a day after leaving their homes, as the hard-won deal ran into trouble.

An AFP correspondent at a marshalling point in rebel-held territory where around 5,000 evacuees from two government-held towns were awaiting onward transport said the buses had yet to move 30 hours after the operation began.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent distributed food and water to the waiting passengers, who included 3,700 civilians, at Rashidin, west of government-held second city Mosul.

Around 2,220 evacuees from two rebel-held towns — Madaya and Zabadani — were similarly blocked at a transit point in government-held territory, one of them told AFP by telephone.

The waiting passengers spent the night on their buses in Ramusa, where the Red Crescent also distributed food and water, Amjad al-Maleh told AFP by telephone.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the convoys were blocked because of rebel complaints that the evacuations from government-held Fuaa and Kefraya had breached the terms of the deal brokered by Iran and Qatar late last month.

The deal had stipulated that in the first stage 8,000 people, including 2,000 loyalist fighters, leave the two towns but in the event just 5,000, including 1,300 fighters left, the Britain-based monitoring group said.

A rebel official confirmed that there were differences over the number of loyalist fighters leaving but refused to elaborate as “negotiations are under way.”

The deal to evacuate the four towns is the latest in a string of such agreements through Syria’s six-year civil war. They have often proved controversial and there have been similar hitches in the past.

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