BEIRUT – The humanitarian evacuation of 250 people from two Syrian towns besieged by pro-government forces and another 250 from two towns blocked off by rebels began Wednesday, coordinated by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
The towns blockaded by pro-government forces are Zabadani and Madaya, near the Lebanese border. Those blockaded by rebels are al-Foua and Kefraya in the northwestern Idlib province, both predominantly Shiite and loyal to the government.
Some 500 people — including the sick, wounded and their family members — are being evacuated and some urgently need life-saving medical attention, a United Nations official said.
“Nine of them need transfer by ambulance, others are being bussed either to Damascus or Idlib,” another U.N. official in Geneva said.
Jan Egeland, chairman of a U.N. humanitarian task force on Syria, said last week he was disappointed by a slowdown in aid access, largely due to blockages by government-backed forces.
But he voiced hope that the evacuation of 500 people from the four towns would happen this week.
A Syrian Arab Red Crescent car leaving Madaya and Zabadani came under rebel fire earlier Wednesday but there were no casualties, a witness said.
The Lebanese TV station al Mayadeen also reported the Red Crescent convoy had come under rebel fire.
Residents of Madaya and Zabadani will be taken to the rebel-held Syrian town of Idlib, the witness said.
Coaches with Red Crescent markings lined up for inspection before heading to al-Foua and Kefraya, a Reuters witness said.
Pro-opposition TV station Orient News said residents from al-Foua and Kefraya would be taken to the government-controlled city of Latakia and to the Damascus area.
The warring sides agreed a local ceasefire for the four towns in September, but the agreement has not been fully implemented.