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Aleppo battle: What next for the evacuees?

  • Published at 10:57 pm December 20th, 2016
  • Last updated at 10:57 pm December 20th, 2016
Aleppo battle: What next for the evacuees?
Thousands of people have been leaving besieged, rebel-held eastern districts of the Syrian city of Aleppo following the resumption of evacuations agreed as part of a ceasefire deal last week. Most are being transported to rebel-held Idlib province, where aid groups say conditions are inadequate, with insufficient food and medical supplies.

How many have left?

Turkey, which backs the rebels and negotiated the evacuation with the Syrian government’s ally, Russia, said on Monday that 20,000 rebel fighters and civilians had reached rebel-held territory since the evacuations got under way. As many as 30,000 others are believed to be waiting to leave in freezing conditions. Last Thursday, UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura estimated that some 50,000 people, among them 40,000 civilians, were trapped inside the four of five districts still under rebel control, which together cover about 2.6sqkm. As part of the ceasefire deal, a large number of people are being evacuated at the same time from two Shia towns in Idlib province that are under siege by rebel forces- Foah and Kefraya. The UN Security Council has meanwhile approved a resolution that calls for the immediate deployment of UN observers to Aleppo to monitor the treatment of civilians as pro-government forces assume complete control of the rebel enclave. More than 70,000 people have also fled on foot to government-controlled areas since mid-November, when government forces stepped up their assault.

Where are the evacuees going?

They are being transferred to Idlib province, a rebel stronghold. Many have been taken to temporary camps while others have found shelter with relatives, aid workers say. The World Health Organisation said on Friday that 194 injured and sick patients had been taken by ambulances to eight different hospitals in the western Aleppo countryside and Idlib province. The most serious cases were then transferred to Turkey. A Turkish official told the AFP news agency that 131 injured people had arrived as of Monday morning, but that five had died. Turkey, which is home to some 2.7m Syrian refugees, is also preparing to set up a “tent city” in Idlib to accommodate up to 80,000 displaced people from Aleppo. Three possible sites have reportedly been identified, and hundreds of aid lorries from the Turkish Red Crescent and the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) charity have crossed the border. A smaller camp for 1,000 “disadvantaged” evacuees from Aleppo, the injured and disabled, will be set up in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli.

What are conditions like in Idlib?

In many places, conditions are already inadequate, with families staying in crowded buildings still under construction with no heat, toilets or running water, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) says. And villages in the countryside are said to be getting full. A doctor who is volunteering at a makeshift hospital in Idlib said there was no equipment to monitor patients. “Even the Intensive Care Unit doesn’t have a ventilator,” he said in a video posted on Facebook. Idlib already hosts some 230,000 displaced people in and around 250 informal camps, according to the IRC.

Will they be safe in Idlib?

Aid agencies have raised concerns over the security of those in Idlib. Most of the province is controlled by a powerful rebel alliance that includes the jihadist group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which was known as al-Nusra Front until it announced it was breaking off formal ties with al-Qaeda in July 2016. The province has been repeatedly bombed by the Syrian and Russian air forces, and President Bashar al-Assad has said it will be one of the next areas to be “liberated” after Aleppo. Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy, warned on Friday: “If there is no political agreement and a ceasefire, Idlib will become the next Aleppo.”

What is happening in Foah and Kefraya?

Some 20,000 people are living in the two predominantly Shia towns, located just to the north of the city of Idlib, which have been under siege by rebel and jihadist fighters since March 2015. Pro-government fighters who were evacuated a year ago reported that starving residents had resorted to eating grass, and that injured people had undergone surgery without anaesthesia. The fates of the residents of Foah and Kefraya have previously been tied to those living in two mainly Sunni towns besieged by pro-government forces outside Damascus - Zabadani and Madaya. Several simultaneous evacuations from the four towns have taken place, while limited deliveries of food and medical aid were permitted three times this year.
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