May 28, 2014
Syrian government forces began evacuating prisoners from Aleppo Central Prison on Saturday, two days after breaking a siege that opposition forces maintained around the facility since early 2013. Rebels had hoped to capture hundreds of prisoners held inside the government facility and consolidate control over an alternate supply linking rebel-held eastern Aleppo city with northern Aleppo province.
The regime’s break of the prison siege changes prospects for the rebels in ways that will unfold in the coming days. For now, the government appears to be turning the prison into a base, says Ahmed al-Ahmed, 26, an Aleppo-based citizen journalist who claims to have been in contact with witnesses in and around the prison.
Damascus is seeking to “take advantage of the prison’s strategic location” in predominantly rebel-controlled northern Aleppo province to disrupt opposition supply lines, Al-Ahmed tells Syria Direct’s Osama Abu Zeid.
A photo circulating on opposition forums claims to show the evacuation of Aleppo Central Prison Saturday.
Q: What is your understanding of the regime’s decision to evacuate Aleppo Central Prison? What is the goal?
The regime aims to transform Aleppo Central Prison into a large, fortified military base. After 18 months of using these prisoners as human shields, the prisoners became a burden on the regime.
Their intention is to take advantage of the prison’s strategic location, close to the northern outskirts of Aleppo, and the rebel supply lines leading from Outer Aleppo to the city of Aleppo. Regime forces will [likely] attack al-Kindi hospital, Jandarat camp and the Kastilo area to cut off the supply lines for the rebels in the city and to blockade it.
Q: When did the prison evacuation operation begin?
It began on Saturday morning, when regime forces started moving the prisoners from Aleppo Central Prison in trucks. They took the road they recently captured, which runs in the direction of the regime-controlled areas [in Aleppo].
Q: How many people were moved? Where did they take them?
Regime forces moved more than 2,000 misdemeanor and felony offenders from the prison to the al-Wahda school building in al-Shuhadah neighborhood, located in the New Aleppo district in the west of the city.
Dozens of prisoners who were infected with communicable diseases, like tuberculosis and hepatitis, were moved to Ibn Rashd hospital in the a-Saryan District. Approximately 60 female prisoners from Central Aleppo Prison were moved to the reform center for women in the al-Jamiliyia district near the al-Mamoun high school in the center of Aleppo.
Q: Why they distribute prisoners this way, in more than one place?
To reduce the pressure on the schools that are housing the evacuated prisoners. We received news saying that regime forces in Aleppo instructed the judiciary to expedite decisions to release those prisoners who had finished three-quarters of their sentences.
For more from Syria Direct, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.