More Than 7,000 People Evacuated From 4 Besieged Syrian Towns


Friday’s evacuations concerned four towns. Fua and Kefarya, two Shiite communities in Idlib Province loyal to Mr. Assad, have been surrounded by hard-line Sunni insurgents for about two years. Madaya and Zabadani, two mostly Sunni towns near Syria’s western border with Lebanon, are surrounded by Syrian government forces and fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia.

About 5,000 residents were removed from the Shiite villages on Friday and 3,000 more were to be taken out by day’s end, according to Firas Amoura, who helped coordinate the evacuation on behalf of the Syrian government. More than 2,200 people were bused out of Madaya and about 150 rebel fighters were waiting to removed from Zabadani.

The evacuations were brokered by the Syrian government and Iran on one side and Qatar, representing the rebels, on the other, and carried out by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. The United Nations did not play a role.

The people who left the Shiite villages were taken to Aleppo. Buses departing the rebel-held towns headed for Idlib Province.

Leaving home was bitter for many, but came after a long period of deprivation.

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Syrian Red Crescent paramedics waited for the buses evacuating civilians from the government-held villages of Fuaa and Kafraya.

Credit
George Ourfalian/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“Everybody wants to leave,” Medhi Kirbash, a resident of one of the Shiite towns said while waiting to board a bus. “We hated even the clothes we have been wearing for the past two years of siege.”

As the departures proceeded, the foreign ministers of Russia, Syria and Iran warned the United States against any further attacks on the Assad forces, and called for an international investigation of the chemical weapons attack in Idlib that killed more than 80 people, according to The Associated Press.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, who hosted his Syrian and Iranian counterparts, Walid al-Moallem and Mohammad Javad Zarif, in Moscow, denounced last week’s American missile strike as a “flagrant violation” of international law. American officials said the strike was in response to the chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4.

The evacuations on Thursday appeared to clear the way for permanent population shifts.

Mr. Amoura said that thousands of people would remain in the two Shiite villages. But others involved in the process doubted whether the communities would survive in the long term. That would leave no Shiite communities in Idlib Province.

Most of the tens of thousands of people in Madaya were expected to remain when the Syrian government retook the town. But only about 150 fighters remained in Zabadani, and all were expected to leave, depopulating the town.

For one of those fighters, Qassem al-Qawayfi, the siege had made his hometown unlivable as many of his fellow fighters were killed and food became scarce.

“Nobody is happy to leave the town where he was born and raised, but it has become misery here,” he said through WhatsApp, a messaging application. “People have become skeletons.”

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