Thousands of fighters and civilians will be removed from Syria’s northern Homs Province, in the latest forced displacements after capitulation agreements to pro-Assad forces.
Buses took the first groups of displaced to other parts of northern Syria on Monday from the Rastan pocket, which had been held by the opposition since October 2011. The convoy was accompanied by RUssian military police.
After overrunNing East Ghouta near Damascus last month, a pro-Assad offensive — enabled by Russian airstrikes — stepped up attacks on the towns of Rastan, Talbiseh, and Houla and surrounding villages. The Free Syria Army finally capitulated last week, fearing an even more intense bombardment after the devastation of East Ghouta over the past three months.
“They left rebels with no option after bombing civilians and giving them no choice either to submit or obliterate their areas and make civilians pay the price,” said Abul Aziz al-Barazi, one of the civilian opposition negotiators.
Local sources said many people are likely to remain in Rastan and Talbiseh; however, more than half of the population of Houla — where more than 100 people, most of them women and children, were massacred by pro-Assad fighters in May 2012 — will be removed.
2/ As in all other forced population transfers, the Siege Watch local contact in al-Rastan Homs #حمص is among those being forcibly displaced. All of our contacts are civilians. (photos via @VDC_Syria ) pic.twitter.com/mKphISfUFa
— Siege Watch (@SiegeWatch) May 8, 2018
Men who remain in the pocket, which has more than 300,000 residents, have six months before they can be conscripted into the regime’s military.
Rebels said they received assurances that Russian military police will man checkpoints around the enclave, preventing attacks on the mainly-Sunni civilians from surrounding villages which are mostly Alawite, the group to which Bashar al-Assad and most of the ruling elite belong.
Meanwhile, fighters and civilians moved from an opposition pocket south of Damascus are reportedly having difficulties in finding camps for shelter.
Thousands of people were transferred last week after the Free Syrian Army capitulated in Yalda, Babila, and Beit Sahm.
They join almost 160,000 people pushed out of East Ghouta. Last week the UN’s Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs warned about the camps in northwest Syria, “There is an urgent need to decongest the sites, allow for freedom of movement, and to scale up aid to people that have left the sites.”
Displaced residents from the Damascus suburbs in Azaz in the northwest, near the Turkish border:
Residents Refuse to Leave Regime Enclaves in Idlib Province
Thousands of residents have refused to leave two regime towns in opposition-held Idlib Province, part of a swap deal with fighters and civilians who left areas south of Damascus.
Empty green buses returned from al Fu’ah and Kafraya on Monday night.
Last week, 20 buses took sick and injured residents from the enclaves, but remaining residents have refused to board, saying they want to be evacuated in one group.