Children in the Rukban camp for displaced Syrians near the Jordanian border (File)
Russia has backed away from forced removal of more than 40,000 displaced people in the Rukban camp in southeastern Syria for another day.
Moscow signalled during the week that residents would be returned to their home areas, from which they fled during Islamic State attacks in 2015, dspite their fears of detentions, forced conscription, harassment, and loss of property.
The Russian Defense Ministry announced on Saturday that green buses — notorious for their forced transfer of civilians after pro-Assad forces reoccupied areas such as east Aleppo city and East Ghouta near Damascus — were en route to Rukban.
🇸🇾🇷🇺 Syrian forces and Russian military police provide security to ensure safe evacuation of thousands of refugees stuck in the Rukban camp without basic supplies and medical assistance in the US-controlled zone of #Syria – first buses & convoy left for Rukban 🚍🚔 pic.twitter.com/8gGHgwA8Oc
— Russia in RSA 🇷🇺 (@EmbassyofRussia) March 2, 2019
More than 90% of residents have said they do not want return to their home areas, with many preferring a move to opposition-held northwest Syria. They held a sit-in, protesting any forced transfer.
Rukban’s public relations committee issued a statement: “The Russian occupying forces are preventing the access of foodstuffs and fuel….[They are to blame for] the siege of the camp and the consequences of this siege of the death or ill-public situation and the aggravation of diseases in children, women, and the elderly as well as the rest of the residents of the camp.”
A source inside Rukban, texting EA, sent a message to Russia:
If you approach the camp, we will respond strongly to you. If it is necessary, we will fight alongside the opposition and refuse to return.
The Children of #Rukbancamp Demonstrate against the false #Russian crossings and warn of them and the corrupt #Syrianregime who displaced them and destroyed their cities.
They call on the international community to help them and put an end to their tragedy. pic.twitter.com/IQNnKKZNcm
— Khaled AL Homsi (@PalmyraPioneer) 3 March 2019
Russia Blames US
Later on Saturday, the Russian “Center for Reconciliation in Syria” acknowledged failure to force any movement.
Lt. Gen. Sergey Solomatin tried to pin the blame on American forces, “The US side has rejected the demand…to allow the transport convoys enter the territory of the al-Tanf zone.”
Rukban is within a 55-km (34-mile) security zone around the US base at Tanf, near the Iraqi border. The American military have refrained from breaking the siege, apparently to avoid any confrontation with Russia.
On Friday, US State Department spokesman Robert Palladino called for “a durable solution for Rukban in line with protection standards and coordinated with all parties”.
He added, “Unilateral Russian initiatives, not coordinated with the UN and regional parties, do not meet these standards.”
Moscow and the Assad regime have tried for months to dismantle the camp in barren territory near the Jordanian border. The regime has besieged the camp, cutting off routes and allowing only two aid deliveries in 14 months. The shortages of food and medicines has been compounded by Jordan’s restrictions on supplies across the border, closed in June 2016 after an Islamic State suicide bombing killed Jordanian personnel.
Dozens of residents have died since last autumn from the conditions, with the UN warning that thousands of children are at risk.
Two weeks ago Russia declared “humanitarian corridors”, but no one showed up at the two checkpoints with Russian military police and Syrian aid personnel. The Defense Ministry then lied that “militants” were preventing any departures.