Thousands of evacuated Syrians stuck as transfer stalls

Aaron Brown
April 16, 2017

It's reported that up to 16 people have died in a blast near the Syrian city of Aleppo.

The blasts hit the buses in the Rashdin area of Aleppo's outskirts and are believed to have been perpetrated by anti-government insurgents.

The explosion ripped through the buses, leaving bodies strewn across the roadside, according to Syrian TV and the opposition Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The blast hit the Rashidin area on the outskirts of Aleppo, where dozens of buses carrying mostly Shia Muslim families from pro-government villages were waiting to enter the city.

Ahmed Afandar, a resident evacuated from his home town near Madaya, said dozens of buses carrying women, children and men had not been allowed to proceed toward rebel-held Idlib as planned.

They are involved in a population transfer deal but have been stranded since the agreement stalled.

They were headed for regime or rebel-held areas via government-held second city Aleppo.

The deal to evacuate the four towns is the latest in a string of such agreements through Syria's six-year civil war.

It said that most of the dead were evacuees, but also included several rebels who had been guarding the buses.

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The explosion hit an area where busses carrying almost 5,000 people from Foua and Kfraya, villages in northern Syria that have been besieged by militants.

The rebels and residents of Madaya near Damascus were waiting at the government-held Ramousah bus garage, a few miles away.

The evacuees were taking part in a controversial population transfer program that was supposed to take people from pro-regime, but rebel-besieged villages, to regime-held parts of Aleppo.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported the convoy continued, and the first buses arrived late Saturday in Aleppo.

Around 2,220 evacuees from Madaya and Zabadani were similarly blocked at a transit point in government-held territory, one of them told AFP by telephone. From there they will travel to Idlib province, an opposition stronghold. "I feel cold as ice", said Muhammad Darwish, a resident bussed out of Madaya, besieged by pro-government forces in the mountains west of the capital.

Last month, the United Nations described the situation in the pro-government north-western towns of Foah and Kefraya, and the rebel-held towns of Madaya and Zabadani near Damascus, as "catastrophic".

"We've moved. We're at the outskirts of the towns", said Muhammad Darwish, who provides medical care in Madaya.

More than 30,000 people are expected to be evacuated under the deal, which began on Wednesday with an exchange of prisoners. Assad's Alawite religious minority is often considered an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

He has been backed militarily by Russian Federation, and by Shia fighters from Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah group in Syria's six-year-old conflict.

Other reports by Free-Prsite

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