UN aids evacuation of civilians, injured rebels from four besieged Syrian towns

A man waves a Syrian opposition flag as others cheer upon the arrival of a UN and Red Cross convoy escorting more than 125 fighters from the besieged rebel-held Syrian town of Zabadani at the Masnaa border crossing between Lebanon and Syria, December 28, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

DAMASCUS (UN) – More than 460 people, including the seriously injured and their family members, were evacuated on Monday from four besieged towns under in Syria with the assistance of the United Nations, the Red Cross and Red Crescent partners following a local agreement between the fighting groups. 

The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, Yacoub El-Hillo, said in a statement that the humanitarian community in Syria “is keen to see the swift implementation of the next phases of the Four Towns Agreement, including humanitarian access to people in these towns.”

“We stand ready to continue providing relief and livelihoods assistance to the millions of people wherever they are in Syria as they bear the brunt of this crisis,” he said.  

The UN in Syria, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and the International Committee of the Red Cross carried out coordinated tasks leading to the evacuation of 338 people from Foua and Kafraya, and 125 people from Zabadani and Madaya. 

They were simultaneously evacuated by land and air through Turkey and Lebanon to the agreed final destinations where those requiring longer-term medical care will receive it. 

The Security Council last week demanded that all parties, particularly the Syrian authorities, immediately open routes across conflict lines and borders to let in vital humanitarian aid.

For his part, UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura stressed that the UN’s clear goal is to reach as soon as possible a nationwide ceasefire. 

“Meanwhile, initiatives like this one bring relief to besieged or isolated communities and have great value,” he said. “They help the perception that a nationwide ceasefire brokered by the members of the International Syria Support Group is doable and that the UN can and will do its part.”

Across Syria, 4.5 million people in hard-to-reach areas continue with limited access to basic life-saving aid and protection. Almost 400,000 of them live in besieged areas with little or no access to basic supplies or assistance. The UN and its partners continue to urge all parties to the conflict to find a political solution, and to ensure unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access.

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