RASHIDIN, Syria - Agence France-Presse
The evacuation of four besieged Syrian towns resumed on April 19, with tight security in place for those leaving government-held areas after a weekend bombing against evacuees killed dozens including nearly 70 children.
A large convoy of buses set out from the government-held towns of Fuaa and Kafraya in Syria’s Idlib province, carrying 3,000 people to the rebel-held transit point of Rashidin near Aleppo city, an AFP correspondent at the point said.
At the same time, 11 buses carrying around 300 people left rebel-held Zabadani, Serghaya and Jabal Sharqi in Damascus province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.
In Rashidin, security was tight after a devastating bomb attack on evacuees at the site on Saturday that according to the Observatory killed 126 people, including 68 children.
Most of the dead were evacuees from the two Shiite-majority towns, with a handful of aid workers and rebels guarding the convoy also among the dead.
Dozens of wounded were taken to hospitals in nearby rebel-held territory, while others were taken to Aleppo, which government forces regained full control of late last year.
Armed rebels were standing guard at Rashidin on April 19 and carefully inspecting vehicles arriving in the area.
Buses were parked in a semi-circle, forming a makeshift barrier around an area in the center of a lot where evacuees including dozens of children milled.
Pro-government militiamen among those being evacuated from Fuaa and Kafraya squatted next to one bus, smoking cigarettes.
Standing nearby, 55-year-old Um Joud from Fuaa said it was difficult to describe how she felt.
“I’m not afraid, because everything is in God’s hands,” she told AFP.
“Of course I would have preferred to stay in my home, but I left for the sake of my children and their lives and futures.”
The evacuations are taking place under a deal between government and opposition representatives that is also seeing residents and rebels transported out from several areas under regime siege near Damascus, primarily Madaya and Zabadani.
It was brokered late last month by Qatar, a longtime opposition supporter, and Iran, a key regime ally, but its implementation had been repeatedly delayed.
When April 19’s evacuations are complete, a total of 8,000 people should have left Fuaa and Kafraya, including pro-government fighters and civilians.
In exchange, 2,500 civilians and rebel fighters should have left rebel areas including Zabadani and Madaya.
Zabadani and Madaya “are now empty of any rebel presence,” said Mayyada al-Aswad, a member of the coordinating committee for the operation on the government side.
April 19’s evacuations mark the end of the first stage of the deal, with a second phase due to begin in June.