Syrians 'still trapped' in Damascus suburb

Syrians ‘still trapped’ in Damascus suburb


There are fears many civilians may still be trapped in a besieged suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus, despite thousands being allowed to leave.The BBC’s Lyse Doucet, who witnessed the exodus, says the government believes only rebel fighters remain in the suburb of Muadhamiya.
But she says there are unconfirmed reports thousands more civilians are too frightened to leave.
At least three Damascus suburbs have been besieged by the army for months.
‘Armed groups’
The civilians who left were allowed out through an evacuation negotiated between the government and opposition fighters who control the area.
The head of operations for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society, Khaled Arksoussi, told the BBC that 1,500 to 1,800 people left Muadhamiya on Tuesday.
They were given first aid and then were taken to a shelter.
It is expected families could stay for as long as a month.
Some will join relatives elsewhere, others have no other place to go.
The government says all civilians have now left the besieged area, with only what it calls “terrorists” staying behind.
Kinda al-Shamamat, the Syrian minister for social affairs, said whoever stayed behind was the enemy.
She said: “Inside al-Muadhamiya there is armed groups. They are terrorists. Now we take the civilians to safe places. And then those people are not our responsibility, they are terrorists.”
But our correspondent says that one activist the BBC reached by Skype said thousands of civilians were still trapped inside, too frightened to leave.
He said that, despite assurances of safe passage, many men who left were now in detention.
Our correspondent says she is unable to verify his claims, but what is clear is the siege is not over.
Supplies in Muadhamiya had been running desperately short, and residents had pleaded to be saved from starvation.
The Syrian army had previously said that rebel-held areas of Damascus such as Muadhamiya could surrender or starve.
At least two other Damascus suburbs – Yarmouk and Eastern Ghouta – have also been besieged by government forces for several months.
The situation had become so desperate that, earlier this month, Muslim clerics issued a religious ruling allowing people to eat cats, dogs and donkeys just to survive.
Those animals are usually considered unfit for human consumption in Islam.
For months, the UN and other aid agencies have been calling for urgent help, fearing the worst for the people of Muadhamiya.
“We didn’t see a piece of bread for nine months,” one woman told the BBC. “We were eating leaves and grass.”
Meanwhile, Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister, Qadri Jamil, was dismissed on Tuesday for leaving the country and acting without government permission, state media said.
Mr Jamil met US officials in Geneva over the weekend to discuss peace negotiations, according to UN and Middle East officials.
But the state news agency Sana said Mr Jamil had been dismissed by President Bashar al-Assad “because he left his centre of work without prior permission and did not follow up on his duties”.
“Additionally, he undertook activities outside the nation without co-ordinating with the government,” Sana said.
More than 100,000 people have been killed in the fighting that has ravaged Syria for two-and-a-half years, according to the UN.
A further two million people have fled Syria and some 4.5 million have been displaced internally. – BBC News


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