Russia, Syria demand US withdraws 'illegal' forces from Syria

Russia, Syria demand US withdraws 'illegal' forces from Syria
In a joint statement, Russia and Syria called on the United States to withdraw its 'illegal' forces and asked for refugees in al-Rukban to be evacuated.
3 min read
27 February, 2019
Corridor, secured by Russia and the Syrian regime, for refugees in the Rukban camp[Getty Images]
Russia and the Syrian regime called on US forces to leave war-torn country and to allow for civilians inside al-Rukban refugee camp to be evacuated by their forces, a joint statement issued on Wednesday said.

The allies have prepared buses to relocate refugees from the camp in southeast Syria and will guarantee safe passage so they could start new lives, the statement released by Russia’s Ministry of Defense read, Reuters reported.

"We also call on the United States, whose military units are on Syrian territory illegally, to leave the country," the statement said.

On Friday, the United States said it will keep 200 troops in Syria, a reversal of President Donald Trump's earlier decision to withdraw all of America's 2,000 troops from the war torn country by the end of April.

Trump's decision to withdraw all US troops was met with fierce criticism from all sides and led to the resignations of Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and other senior military officials.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani said earlier this month that the Syrian government must take over the regions where US troops are currently positioned

Rukban camp

Russia threatened on Monday to block aid to the al-Rukban refugee camp in southern Syria and force men into the army unless refugees leave the area. 

In the week before, Russian forces and the Syrian regime opened two "humanitarian corridors" in an attempt to vacate Rukban camp, which is known to have some of the worst conditions of any in the country.

Most residents either refused or were unable to leave the camp, fearing arrest, torture and even death if they were to enter regime-held territory through the corridors.

Read also: Rukban camp residents wary after US withdrawal

Syrian refugees in Rukban, fearing the regime overtaking the area following the US withdrawal from Syria, have called to be moved to opposition-held northern Syria before US troops leave Tanf.

Russia's Ministry of Defence said earlier this month that, while checkpoints at the corridors would offer food, clothing, medical checkups and other vital support IDPs have been lacking, the "law enforcement agencies" of Syria would operate checkpoints and "escort" civilians to other destinations.

The camp is located inside a "deconfliction zone" set up by the US-led international coalition in 2016, which Washington saw as a strategic foothold while it launched an offensive against the Islamic State, as well as being close to the Iranian weapons supply route entering Syria from Iraq.

Around 50,000 civilians live in the remote camp, most of them internally displaced people (IDPs) from Homs, Deir az-Zour, and Deraa. Some 80 percent of the residents are women and children.

Most residents in Rukban were forced to leave their homes due to Syrian regime and Russian aerial bombardment. With the vast majority of the country back under the hold of the regime, many IDPs fear arrest, torture and even death if they return.

Syria's civil war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since it started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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