Turkey | Syria: Four Towns Evacuations (as of 20 April 2017) [EN/AR]
In late March 2017, parties to the Four Towns Agreement reached an agreement whereby, amongst other provisions, evacuations from the “Four Towns” (Madaya, Az-Zabadani, Foah and Kafraya) were to be carried out. Evacuations were also envisaged from Yarmouk camp in Damascus City.
On 15 April, the evacuation to Idleb City started for an estimated 2,350 people from Madaya town, and the evacuation to Aleppo City started for 5,000 people from Foah and Kafraya towns.
On 15 April, a car bomb exploded at the Al-Rashideen waiting area, where evacuees from Foah and Kafraya towns were awaiting their transfer.
According to local health authorities, at least 125 people were killed, including at least 67 children, 13 women and 16 men, and 413 people were wounded including 58 children.
Seven humanitarian workers were among those injured.
Immediately following the explosion, humanitarian organizations, including cross-border partners, exerted tremendous response efforts, and 275 people were sent to various hospitals in Idleb, including 30 patients who were sent to Turkey for advanced medical treatment.
Some 138 people are receiving medical treatment in Aleppo city.
Following the attack, evacuees from Madaya town crossed to Idleb City and those from Foua and Kafraya towns to Aleppo city.
On 19 April, some 550 people from Az-Zabadani (158 people), Madaya (100 people), Bloudan mountain (150 people) and Sarghaya (100 people) departed for Idleb Governorate.
Simultaneously, 3,000 people left Kafraya and Foah towards the AlRashideen transit area on the outskirts of Aleppo City. At the time of writing, the swap was frozen due to disagreement between the parties.
Following this operation, AzZabadani is now completely empty of people.
The original Four Towns agreement brokered in September 2015 stipulated that parties to the conflict should allow evacuations of people from both locations, evacuation of the injured, facilitation of humanitarian access to both locations, and a truce that was to include several other surrounding communities to the four towns. While some of the terms of the original agreement were carried out, such as the sporadic provision of humanitarian assistance, or the occasional transfer of wounded, the implementation of the remaining components did not fully occur.
In late March 2017, parties to the Four Towns Agreement reached another agreement whereby evacuations were to take place from the non-state armed groups (NSAGs)-controlled towns of Madaya and Az-Zabadani in Rural Damascus, and simultaneously from the Government of Syria (GoS) controlled towns of Foah and Kafraya in Idleb governorate.
The first phase of the agreement for the evacuation of fighters and families from Madaya and Az-Zabadani and the entire population of Foah and Kafraya started on 12 April with the exchange of prisoners and dead bodies between the parties. Reports indicate that sixteen prisoners and eight bodies were released from Foah, and 19 prisoners and one body were released by NSAGs in Idleb Governorate.
On 13 April, prior to the evacuations taking place, an explosion outside of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) office in Idleb city resulted in the wounding of two SARC members and the damaging of a SARC vehicle. During the late evening hours on the same day, and while buses were in Foah and Kafraya for the evacuation, several mortar rounds struck the two towns resulting in the wounding of a number of civilians and some buses were damaged.
On 14 April, 60 buses carrying 2,350 people from Madaya town departed for the GoS-held Ramouseh garage area in Aleppo city after which they were to be transported to Idleb governorate. Simultaneously, 75 buses carrying 5,000 people from Foah and Kafraya towns departed towards the NSAG-held Al-Rashideen area on the western outskirts of Aleppo city, after which they were supposed to cross into the GoS-held area of Aleppo city. The evacuation process faced several delays and challenges due to reported disagreements among the parties to the conflict regarding the details of the agreement, as well as the high levels of insecurity in Idleb governorate. This resulted in the evacuees sitting on the transport buses for many hours waiting for the various parties to reach agreements.
Following the arrival of both groups at the transit points, disagreements between parties to the conflict further delayed the implementation of the evacuation for more than 12 hours. On 15 April, while negotiations to solve the dispute were ongoing, a car bomb exploded in Al-Rashideen area, which according to local health authorities killed at least 125 people, including at least 67 children, 13 women and 16 men, and wounded 413 people including 58 children, and seven humanitarian personnel. Given that the explosion was close to the IDP buses from Foah and Kafraya, the majority of the casualties were from those towns. That same day, the UN Secretary General’s spokesperson (here) and the Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs issued statements (here) in which they condemned the attack and expressed their condolences to the families of the victims.
A few hours after the explosion, all buses started crossing to the other side as had been planned. The IDPs from Madaya were transferred to reception centers in Idleb city and Maarat Misreen, while IDPs from Foah and Kafraya crossed into GoS-held areas in Aleppo city. The UN has not been involved in the negotiations of the agreement and has repeatedly stressed that any evacuation of civilians must be safe, voluntary, and to a place of their choosing.
Parties must treat those leaving with dignity, without fear of harm. Those displaced must be allowed to return voluntarily to their homes as soon as the situation allows it.
On 19 April, 11 buses carrying some 550 people from Az-Zabadani (158 people), Madaya (100 people), Bloudan mountain (150 people) and Sarghaya (100 people) departed for Idleb governorate. Simultaneously, 3,000 people left Kafraya and Foah towards the Al-Rashideen transit area on the outskirts of Aleppo City. At the time of writing, the swap was frozen due to disagreement between the parties. Following this operation, Az-Zabadani is now completely empty of people.