Thousands of Syria evacuees stuck on road as deal falters

Civilians and fighters began evacuating four towns besieged by rebels and government forces Friday, an AFP correspondent and a local source said.

Critics say the string of evacuations, which could see some 30,000 people moved across battle lines over the next 60 days, amounts to forced displacement along political and sectarian lines.

Rami Abdurrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the Syrian government and rebels who negotiated the deal have differed over the evacuation of gunmen from the towns.

The government siege of Madaya, one of the rebel-held towns that was evacuated today, gained worldwide attention early a year ago after reports that residents were "eating leaves, grass and pets to survive", as The Two-Way reported.

Those killed included civilians as well as rebel fighters.

This frame grab from video provided by the government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media, shows a Syrian Red Arab Crescent volunteer, left, carries the bags of a Syrian family, center, who are heading to a bus as they leave from Madaya an opposition-held town near Damascus, Syria, Friday, April 14, 2017.

The evacuees had been allowed to leave their villages this week as part of a Shia-Sunni exchange agreement between the Syrian government and insurgents who have been fighting a civil war for six years. "We're pitiful and irate about what has happened".

"Rebels say Damascus breached the terms of the deal, accusing the government of trying to bring out more loyalist fighters than agreed".

The nearby town of Zabadani, which had also been under government siege, is "to be depopulated", the Associated Press writes.

He said: "The people are restless". However, Yasser Abdelatif, a media official for the ultraconservative rebel group Ahrar al-Sham, said the two towns will be depopulated completely.

If the evacuations are completed, they would be the first in number of rounds stretching over two months to evacuate some 30,000 Syrians from besieged areas. A war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, says 43 were killed in the blast that hit the al-Rashidin area, on the edge of Aleppo city. Food was distributed after several hours and by early afternoon the evacuees from rebel-held areas were "pressured" to sit back on their buses, Afandar said.

Madaya resident Amjad al-Maleh, speaking from a departing bus, told AFP that rebels among the evacuees had been allowed to keep light weapons.

"Honestly, when we left Madaya, I felt sadness, anger and sorrow".

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said yesterday that an worldwide probe into the mass loss of life through sarin gas in Khan Sheikhoun should include experts from Brazil, India, Iran and other nations.

Syria's population is mostly Sunni.

  • Joanne Flowers