Protests erupt in north Syria as pro-Turkey rebels strand Islamist evacuees from Ghouta

AFP-JIJI

Dozens of people demonstrated Wednesday in the northern Syrian town of Al-Bab to demand that pro-Turkey rebels allow Islamist fighters evacuated from eastern Ghouta to enter, an AFP correspondent reported.

A convoy of 3,800 people, including around 1,300 fighters from the Jaish al-Islam rebel group, were blocked from entering Al-Bab in the northern province of Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“They are stuck in the area between the last regime checkpoint in the village of Abu Zindein and the first spot controlled by local Syrian factions,” the Britain-based monitor said.

Jaish al-Islam is the group that controlled Douma, the main city in eastern Ghouta and the last area in the onetime rebel enclave that regime and allied forces have not fully retaken.

Rebels from other groups were evacuated as part of deals brokered by Russia following a weeks-long air and ground offensive that killed more than 1,600 civilians.

Talks with Jaish al-Islam were more complicated, notably because the group has had strained relations with rival, Turkish-backed factions.

Residents of Al-Bab and activists gathered in the town Wednesday to chant slogans supporting the evacuees.

More than 7,000 people have already been evacuated from the Douma area in recent days, around a third of them fighters.

Russia and Syria resumed bombardment of the Douma area when talks for Jaish al-Islam’s evacuation sputtered last week, culminating in an alleged chemical strike on Saturday.

Russia claimed Wednesday that the attack was staged, and accused the United States of fabricating evidence to justify punitive missile strikes.

It also said eastern Ghouta had been completely stabilized and that units of Russian military police would be deployed across Douma on Thursday.