Aleppo evacuation: Refugees killed and robbed as convoy flees city

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Convoy of at least 800 people taken hostage by Shia militia near Ramoussa

Convoy prepares to leave eastern Aleppo on 15 December (MEE/Zouhair al-Shimale)
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Saturday 17 December 2016 9:48 UTC
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Only a day after the evacuation of Aleppo residents began, numerous reports emerged that a convoy of at least 800 civilians was taken hostage by pro-Assad militias near Ramoussa on Friday.

“A group of cars carrying hundreds of people out of east Aleppo was stopped by tanks belonging to Shia militias and taken hostage for two hours,” said Seraj Alomar, manager of Boraq news agency and a witness who was on the convoy.

'They asked all the men to get out of the vehicles, strip and lay face down on the floor. Then they started beating us and threatening to kill us'

- Aleppo refugee

The convoy was stopped at a Hezbollah checkpoint on the way to the west Aleppo countryside, reported the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

“They killed four men among us and robbed us of all our possessions,” added Alomar, who recorded his testimony in a video published by Thiqa news agency on Twitter. 

“The militias created a huge commotion, pretending that there were rebels among us who had started shooting at them,” said the witness, who confirmed that the convoy was made up of unarmed people and included many women, children and elderly.

“They asked all the men to get out of the vehicles, strip and lie face down on the floor," he said. "Then they started beating us and threatening to kill us.”



“The women were also told to hand over their gold, bags and any other personal possessions including identity documents.”

MEE contributor Zouhair al-Shimale, who was also on the convoy leaving east Aleppo, said in a post on Twitter that about 1,000 civilians were handcuffed and robbed.

Al-Shimale also confirmed that four men were killed while others were taken hostage, despite members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent being present.

The convoy was reportedly allowed to return to besieged areas in eastern Aleppo, although some individuals remained hostage to the militias.

Mohamad Katoub, advocacy officer for the Syrian American Medical Society, confirmed that a convoy that left east Aleppo was captured by pro-Assad forces and forced to turn back after a few hours. 

 

 

He also said in a tweet that four civilians had been killed by pro-Assad forces. 

Some reports alleged that the Red Cresent and Red Cross were forced to leave the scene as tanks surrounded the convoy.

The witness alleged that those responsible for the incident included Iranian-backed and Hezbollah-backed militias that rolled out the tanks and were later joined by Syrian army forces to block the convoy from reaching its destination.

Live: Aleppo evacuations

In a separate testimony, an Aleppo resident on the convoy said the whole group was targeted and shot at when the pro-Assad forces and allied militias stopped their cars from proceeding.

"We were stripped, beaten and told this is payback," said the witness, who claimed the militia members told them the people in Foua and Kefraya [Kafarya or Kafriya],  had to be released.

Earlier on Friday, Hezbollah, the Lebanese ally of Syria's government, said protesters had also blocked a road out of eastern Aleppo, demanding the simultaneous evacuation of Foua and Kefraya, two villages in the Idlib countryside blockaded by rebel groups.

'When the woman saw her husband being shot in front of her eyes, she started bleeding and lost her child. They picked her up and left'

- Aleppo refugee

A Syrian official said in comments reported by Reuters: "If the evacuation of the injured in Kefraya and al-Foua takes place, the operation to evacuate eastern Aleppo will resume immediately."

The witness also said that a pregnant woman was taken hostage after suffering a miscarriage when she witnessed the militia forces kill her husband. 

"When the woman saw her husband being shot in front her eyes, she started bleeding and lost her child. They picked her up and left," said the unnamed witness.

These reports were confirmed by other sources in east Aleppo. 

Monther Etaky, a nurse based in eastern Aleppo, sent Middle East Eye a voice note corroborating reports that evacuees were being robbed of their possessions and of four civilians being killed by pro-Assad militias. 

In a voice note in which Etaky sounded drained, he said: "We were trying to get out of the city but the Iranian-backed militias blocked us from reaching the evacuation zone." 

Thousands remain trapped in eastern Aleppo

These reports come after the Syrian government said the evacuation of Aleppo had been suspended on Friday due to "obstructions," while Russian officials declared that evacuation efforts in east Aleppo were complete.

In a video posted on Twitter on Friday, independent journalist Bilal Abdul Kareem said thousands of civilians remained trapped in eastern Aleppo and had not been allowed to leave.

“Russia Today reported that the evacuation is over and the people have left eastern Aleppo. This is not true at all," said Kareem.

"There are thousands upon thousands of men, women and children here. The fighters were not allowed to leave. I repeat, they were not allowed to leave nor were their families."

According to Kareem, four rebel fighters were killed while 20 others were taken prisoner by Hezbollah.

Additional reporting by Areeb Ullah