Removals Begin in Syria’s “4 Towns” Agreement

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Removals of people from two besieged opposition towns and two regime enclaves in Syria have begun.

Buses took rebels, their families, and residents from Madaya and Zabadani, northwest of Damascus, on Friday. Meanwhile, pro-Assad fighters and residents left the enclaves of al-Fu’ah and Kafraya, north of opposition-held Idlib city.

Departure from Madaya:

Madaya and Zabadani have been cut off by the Syrian army, militias, and Hezbollah since July 2015, with scores of people dying from starvation and many others shot by pro-Assad forces. Al-Fu’ah and Kafraya have been surrounded since rebels took control of almost of Idlib Province in spring 2015.

The deal, following an agreement brokered by Qatar between Hezbollah and the leading rebel faction Ahrar al-Sham, was scheduled for implementation last week but was held up by logistical delays. An estimated 2,000 people will be taken from Madaya and Zabadani, and 10,000 from al-Fu’ah and Kafraya.

The deal also includes guarantees of aid and the freeing of 1,500 detainees, including many women, from regime prisons. It began with the swap of 31 people and nine bodies — rebels released eight women, four children and eight bodies and pro-Assad militias freeing 19 fighters and releasing one body.

Some opposition groups and rebel factions have objected to the deal as forced displacement for the Assad regime’s goal of demographic change.

“One Bag to Pack A Life”

Muhammad Darwish, a field medic in Madaya, said civilians are being given the option to stay, but it is too dangerous for medical workers to do so because they have targeted for detention and torture.

“It’s more dangerous for a doctor than it is for a fighter to stay,” he said.

Wafiqa Hashem, a teacher in Madaya, will also leave: “Maybe it’s demographic engineering, but it’s better than a collective massacre.”

And Houssam Mahmmoud, a Madaya resident who left behind his mother, said:

They told us to pack one bag only. Each person was given one bag to pack his life and move away.

They woke us up at around 3am and told us we have to hurry. We ran like crazy trying to find our buses.

TOP PHOTO: Buses in Madaya lined up to take rebels and residents from the opposition town

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