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Mass Evacuation Begins in Besieged Syrian Towns

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35488073
Mass Evacuation Begins in Besieged Syrian Towns
Christina Comben

As the war in Syria escalates, after heavy bombing from US forces, the government, along with rebel groups, have started to evacuate people from four major towns in Syria. This includes towns in the north-west of the country, Kefraya and Foah. Its people are being moved to government controlled areas close to Aleppo.

Evacuees from the rebel-held town of Madaya, close to Damascus, have been taken out in buses to the safer Idlib province. Zabadani residents are also being evacuated, which makes for more than 30,000 people displaced.

Catastrophic situation in Syria

In March of this year, the United Nations officially labeled the situation in these four towns as being “catastrophic.” There were over 64,000 civilians that were “trapped in a cycle of daily violence and deprivation.” Beyond the constant fighting and fear, a great majority have difficulty accessing food supplies and medicine.

In Kefraya and Foah, most of the residents are Shia Muslims. They have been unable to leave and circled in by rebel fighters and Sunni jihadists, linked to al-Qaeda for over a year.

The predominantly Sunni towns of Madaya and Zabadani, have been under attack since June of 2015. With constant pressure and sieges from the Syrian army, as well as fighters from the Lebanon Shia Islamist movement, Hezbollah.

Four Towns Agreement

This evacuation agreement has been called the “Four Towns Agreement.” It was decided upon by the warring factions. Until now, the United Nations and the Red Cross have only been able to deliver limited aid and occasionally allowed in to remove sick, wounded, or dead bodies, to avoid epidemics.

The evacuation is not obligatory and people who want to be evacuated from Kefraya and Foah are to be transported to Aleppo, currently under government control. Residents of Madaya and Zabadani will, in turn, go to the rebel-held areas close to Idlib and Jarablus.

Masterminds behind the deal

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria’s greatest ally, Iran, was the mastermind behind the Four Towns Agreement, along with Qatar, which backs rebel fighters. However, critics fear that the agreement forces people into demographic change.

Approximately 4.7 million people live places that are difficult to reach or besieged in Syria.

Foreign response

Foreign ministers of Syria, Iran and Russia are due to meet in Moscow. This will mark the first meeting between these three allies since US cruise missile attack on the Syrian airbase at Homs. They are expected to discuss their next move in the Syria war.

The US maintains that its airstrike was a response to the alleged chemical attack in rebel-held Khan Sheikhoun, by the Syrian government. During the attack more than 80 people were killed.

President Assad however denies that his government carried out the attack and rejects the reports as being fabricated.

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