RASHIDIN, Syria (AFP) – Hundreds of frightened Syrians being evacuated from besieged towns were stuck yesterday at a rebel-held transit point where more than 120 of their fellow townspeople were killed in a weekend bombing.
The 3,000 evacuees left their homes in the government-controlled towns of Fuaa and Kafraya at dawn on Wednesday as part of a deal that is also seeing residents and fighters transported out of several rebel areas surrounded by government forces.
The evacuations began last week but were delayed after Saturday’s suicide car bombing, which saw 126 people killed, 68 of them children, at the transit point in Rashidin, west of Aleppo.
They resumed on Wednesday but evacuees were forced to spend the night in buses at the marshalling area following another delay.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the latest delay was the result of an 11th hour rebel demand for the release of prisoners held by President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
“The convoys will not move until after the release of 750 prisoners – men and women – from regime prisons and their arrival in rebel-held areas,” the British-based monitoring group said.
Yesterday, an AFP correspondent saw the evacuees gathered together at the transit point, surrounded by armed rebels, as children played near the waiting buses.
Umm Sanad, a 50-year-old woman from Fuaa, said they had overcome their fear to join the evacuation.
“We left because of the siege and the rockets. We left even though we were afraid after the attack,” said Sanad, who evacuated along her teenaged sons.
The rebel fighters were keeping all other cars away from the area, except for a Red Crescent vehicle that was allowed to distribute aid.