Children among more than 40,000 displaced persons in the Rukban camp, southeast Syria (UNHCR)

Russia has stepped up its propaganda as another child dies in the besieged Rukban camp for displaced persons in southeast Syria.

The infant perished last week from a lack of milk in the camp, cut off since last autumn by the Assad regime. A man also died amid the shortages of food, medicine, and basic supplies and the lack of adequate medical facilities.

In a barren area near the Jordanian border, the camp has more than 40,000 residents, who fled their homes in 2015 during Islamic State attacks. More than 90% want to leave Rukban, but they fear detentions and forced conscription and are uncertain about the status of their property if they return to home areas.

Trying to force their departure, the Assad regime cut off routes to Rukban last autumn. Damascus has allowed only two aid convoys since January 2018.

Russia pursued high-profile propaganda in February with the announcement of “humanitarian corridors” — two military checkpoints — for residents to leave, but none showed up. A Russian “green bus” convoy for removals did not reach the camp amid protests last month.

Moscow has blamed “militants” and the US military for its failure. Rukban lies within a 55-km (34-mile) security zone around the US base at Tanf on the Iraqi border.

Syria Daily, March 12: Russia Calls for “Liquidation” of Rukban Camp With 40,000+ Displaced

Russia Blasts US, Declares Killing of Couple

On Tuesday, Russia and the Assad regime said the US military had again declined to attend a meeting to disband — “liquidate”, in the words of a Russian statement two weeks ago — Rukban.

A joint statement declared, “The US keeps deliberately delaying a solution to the refugee camp problem, reluctant to grant access for a representational working group to the zone they had illegally occupied and to assume responsibility for the events that take place in Rukban.”

The Americans at Tanf also did not participate in a meeting last week, which included UN staff, the head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and camp leaders.

Syria Daily, March 27: Russia Convenes Meeting to Remove Displaced Syrians From Rukban
Syria Daily, March 23: Russia Calls for “Liquidation” of Rukban Camp With 40,000+ Displaced

The statement said another meeting will be convened next Tuesday. It insisted, despite residents’ fears, “The Syrian government guarantees security to the returning citizens and the compliance with all UN requirements for their decent accommodation.”

Meanwhile, Russian State media features the assertion of a regime official during the meeting that “militants” killed a couple who wanted to leave Rukban.

No evidence was provided for the statement by Ahmed Munir of the “National Reconciliation Commission”. He also said that Islamic State “terrorists” joined “militants” in engaging in drug trafficking, smuggling, and seizure of UN humanitarian aid: “This information is well-known, even the UN knows about it.”

He appealed to residents: “Make the decision, don’t yield to US pressure….Come back to your homes, come back to normal life.”

The Russian campaign includes social media activists — such as British blogger Vanessa Beeley, the conspiracy site 21st Century Wire, and the outlet “Mint Press News”, who serve Moscow and the Assad regime by putting out propaganda lines: