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Sick residents evacuated, injured fighters leave as second round of Four Towns Agreement begins

AMMAN: Ambulances transported five chronically ill residents from two encircled, […]

AMMAN: Ambulances transported five chronically ill residents from two encircled, pro-regime towns in Idlib and 20 injured fighters from the Yarmouk camp in southern Damascus on Monday in the latest stage of a rebel-regime agreement signed in March, sources on the ground tell Syria Direct.

Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) vehicles entered, then departed from the neighboring, Shiite-majority towns of Kufraya and al-Fuaa in Idlib province on Monday afternoon, a local resident, who was present when the ambulances arrived, told Syria Direct on Monday on condition of anonymity.

“Five critically ill patients, as well as 14 [family members] accompanying them left with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent,” he told Syria Direct.

On Sunday, SARC vehicles also entered the Yarmouk camp in southern Damascus, mostly under the control of the Islamic State and encircled by pro-regime forces. A small section of the camp is controlled by Hay’at Tahrir a-Sham (HTS)—a rebel coalition including Jabhat Fatah a-Sham.

 Kufraya and al-Fuaa residents board Red Crescent ambulances Monday. Photo courtesy of Kufraya and al-Fuaa News.

The evacuations in the north and south are part of the second stage of the Four Towns Agreement. The deal, reportedly brokered in March by Qatar and Iran, will see 20,000 residents of al-Fuaa and Kufraya in Idlib province leave the towns, which will fall under rebel control, in exchange for residents and fighters in rebel-held areas in Outer Damascus and south of the capital, which will revert to regime control.

In addition to the evacuation of the four towns—two rebel-held, two regime-held—the terms of the agreement stipulate that humanitarian aid enter the opposition-controlled segment of the camp and that HTS fighters depart from the area for Idlib province.

In April, HTS confirmed that the “terms of the agreement would include the entry of food and medical aid” into Yarmouk in return “the exit of fighters and residents” to Idlib province, in a statement released via their media outlet, the Ebaa News Agency.

As part of phase one, a SARC convoy delivered aid to the Yarmouk camp on April 23 for the first time since 2015. An estimated 11,000 fighters and civilians left besieged Kufraya and al-Fuaa in the first two convoys the same month. In return, 3,900 fighters and civilians from Madaya and Zabadani in Outer Damascus left for rebel-held Idlib province.

 SARC vehicles in Yarmouk camp prior to Monday’s departure. Photo courtesy of Yarmouk Camp.

The second stage began Monday as “injured fighters from Hay’at Tahrir a-Sham left through the entrance of the Yarmouk camp,” The Yarmouk Camp, a local, pro-opposition news page, reported the same day.

The convoy of SARC vehicles departed the opposition-held area of the camp with 20 injured HTS fighters and their families for Syria’s northwestern Idlib province.

The evacuation date for the remaining HTS fighters and residents of the two besieged Idlib towns is yet to be scheduled. There are currently an estimated 8,000-9,000 residents remaining in Kufraya and al-Fuaa. 

Though some residents in opposition territories in Idlib province and southern Damascus have criticized the Four Towns Agreement for facilitating demographic change and allowing rebel groups to decide their fates, one activist in the Yarmouk camp told Syria Direct on Monday that he and his fellow residents just want the years of siege to come to an end.

“People are tired and they no longer care who will enter and control the region,” Abu Mohammad, a local activist and resident of the HTS-controlled section of the camp, told Syria Direct on Monday.

“All they want is salvation.”

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