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Residents fleeing regime advance on al-Bab sleeping ‘under the trees’

As regime forces approach the Islamic State-controlled city of al-Bab […]

27 January 2016

As regime forces approach the Islamic State-controlled city of al-Bab in the eastern Aleppo countryside, residents are attempting to flee the area against the orders of the Islamic State.

Roughly 200 families have made it out so far, Munir a-Shamali, a citizen journalist in nearby Azaz, tells Syria Direct’s Noura Hourani. Some bribed Islamic State fighters, while others left at night, on foot, and trudged through the “cold and mud” on their way towards Azaz or the surrounding countryside, says a-Shamali.

In temperatures that dip below zero Celsius at night, residents who were unable to secure tents “covered the ground and slept under the trees.”

Q: How are the displaced doing right now?

Some left at night with nothing—they covered the ground and slept under the trees. Those who were able to find tents set them up and hid inside them, among the orchards. Others took refuge in the mosques from the biting cold, seeing as the temperature is falling below zero. Those who reached Azaz were taken into group shelters.

Residents flee al-Bab over the weekend. Photo courtesy of Khalid abu al-Majd.

Q: How many people have been displaced by developments around al-Bab? How were they able to flee from IS-controlled areas?

Until now roughly 200 families have fled from al-Bab alone. Most headed towards the city of Azaz, controlled by opposition brigades. The Islamic State forbids residents from leaving areas of its control, meaning these residents were only able to flee from death by paying bribes at the checkpoints. Others fled at night, on foot in the cold and mud, while others still took advantage of IS fighters’ preoccupation during the bombing and were able to get out.

Q: Why didn’t they flee to Turkey?

Turkey is not allowing anyone to cross [at the Bab a-Salameh crossing] except those with extremely dangerous injuries. They open fire on anyone trying to cross into Turkey.

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