Syrian rebels, civilians leave Eastern Qalamoun for Afrin

Syrian rebels, civilians leave Eastern Qalamoun for Afrin
Following a deal brokered by opposition groups and Russia, Syrian rebels and civilians were transported to Afrin.
2 min read
22 April, 2018
Tens of thousands of Kurds were displaced from Afrin in a Turkish-backed offensive [Getty]
Syrian rebels and civilians were transported out of an area near Damascus towards a northwestern enclave in the country held by pro-Turkish forces, a monitor and rebel sources said.

The displacement follows a deal between opposition groups and regime ally Russia.

The rebels were to leave al-Ruhayba - a town in Eastern Qalamoun, which lies around 35 miles northeast of Damascus - for other opposition areas in Syria.

Under the agreement, around 6,000 fighters were set to leave Qalamoun over the coming days for Jarabulus in Aleppo province and rebel-controlled Idlib province.

Some were being bussed even further to Afrin, a hilly enclave in northwest Syria that was captured recently from Kurdish fighters by Ankara-backed forces.

Rebels said they were headed to a camp for the displaced in the area.

"There are 1,148 people on this convoy, going from the East Qalamun region to the Jandairis camp" in the Afrin region, Abu Mahmoud, a rebel fighter responsible for the convoy's security, told AFP.

Britain-based war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported that parts of the convoy were already arriving in the Afrin region.

"The convoy has arrived and there are already several thousand rebels and civilians resettled in Afrin," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

"Some are squatting in abandoned homes," he added.

Tens of thousands of people were displaced by the Turkish-led assault on the Afrin region, whose small towns and villages were home to mostly Syrian Kurds.

In January, Turkey launched an operation into Syria to root out the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in the Afrin enclave and drove the group from the city on March 18.

Turkey has branded the YPG a terrorist group linked to outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has waged an armed rebellion against the state since 1984.

Ankara has always argued the YPG disrupted the ethnic balance of northern Syria and insisted its fight is against the militia group and not Kurds themselves.

The Observatory said dozens of civilians were killed in the push but Ankara says it avoided any civilian casualties.

Afrin remains a point of tension. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose country allowed Turkish air force to enter Syrian air space for the Afrin operation, said last week that Afrin should be "returned to the control of the Syrian government".

In response, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticised Lavrov's "wrong approach."

"We will give Afrin back to its inhabitants when the time comes but we will determine the time, not Mr Lavrov," Erdogan retorted.