Turkey | Syria: Response to the Evacuation from Arsal/Flita Mountains to North-western Syria (as of 11 August 2017)

Highlights

  • At the end of July 2017, Hayyat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) and Hezbollah reached an agreement whereby civilians and HTS fighters in Arsal Mountains (Lebanon) and Flita Mountains (Syria) would be “evacuated” to north-western Syria.

  • After delays due to disputes between the parties to the agreement, 5,288 people were evacuated from Arsal and Flita mountains to parts of Idleb and Aleppo governorates.

  • Humanitarian organizations provided multi-sectoral assistance during transportation, at the point of entry into non-state armed group (NSAG)-held areas, at reception centres, and at their in final destinations, as well as transport once in NSAG-areas.

  • The provision of transportation from the drop-off points to the reception centers was difficult for humanitarian organizations to organize and placed put further strains on already-stretched resources.

Situation Overview

At the end of July 2017, an agreement regarding the evacuation of Hayyat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) fighters and civilians from the Arsal Mountains (Lebanon) and Flita Mountains (Syria) area was reached between HTS and Hezbollah. The first phase of the agreement stipulated the release of some prisoners and bodies of the deceased by both sides, while the second phase included the evacuation of people.
The UN and the humanitarian community had no part in reaching this agreement and have repeatedly expressed deep concern at the continuing use of such “local agreements”, which do not appear to meet international legal standards or humanitarian principles. Such movements should be voluntary and within a conducive protection environment. However, as part of the humanitarian principle of “humanity”, assistance and services is being provided to the new arrivals.

Following several delays due to disputes between the parties to the agreement, the evacuation process commenced on 03 August. 113 buses and 13 ambulances departed from the Arsal area in Lebanon and crossed into Syria, heading towards non-state armed group (NSAG)-held areas in north-western Syria. Initial reports indicated that Rahjan village, in the north-eastern countryside of Hama governorate, was to be the drop-off point for the evacuees to enter NSAG-held areas. However, due to the large number of buses, the narrow roads in the area and an agreement between parties to the conflict to synchronize the evacuation with the release of fighters, some of the buses had to be re-directed to Qasr Bin Wardan village, more than 15 kilometers away. This change created confusion among humanitarian actors who prepared to receive all evacuees at Rahjan village, and from there to take them to reception centers in northwestern Syria.

On 05 August, the Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) Cluster issued an update, which it stated that 5,288 people arrived in north-western Syria from Arsal and Flita mountains. The new arrivals dispersed to more than 25 locations, including to two NGO-supported reception centers in Maaret Elekhwan and Meznaz towns, Idleb and Aleppo governorates respectively. Onward movement of some of the new arrivals continues, making it difficult for NGOs to track and provide assistance to everyone.

In addition to the agreement between HTS and Hezbollah, a separate agreement was reached between Saraya Ahl Al-Sham and Hezbollah, whereby a reported 3,000 people, including 300 – 400 fighters, will be evacuated from Arsal and Flita to Raheiba town in the eastern Qalamoun region in Syria. According to Lebanese and Syrian media sources, it should take place within the coming days.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:

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