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UN starts evacuating 500 people from besieged Syria towns
[SYRIA] The United Nations on Wednesday began evacuating 500 people, including wounded residents and their families, from four besieged towns in war-torn Syria, an AFP reporter said.
"We are evacuating injured or sick people from the four besieged towns," a UN source in Damascus told AFP.
The complex humanitarian mission would see 500 wounded and their relatives evacuated simultaneously from rebel-held Zabadani and Madaya near Damascus, as well as the government-held towns of Fuaa and Kafraya in northwest Idlib province.
An AFP reporter on the outskirts of Zabadani said the evacuations began with 25 men taken from the town on Wednesday afternoon.
They included 15 young men and 10 elderly in need of medical attention.
Once their bus had cleared Zabadani's outskirts, the men stepped out to be checked by medical teams.
Zabadani and Madaya are besieged by government forces, and Fuaa and Kafraya are surrounded by Islamist rebel groups.
On the outskirts of the rebel-held town of Madaya, seven large white buses carrying evacuated residents stopped along a wide route lined by shrubbery.
Dozens of men, women, and children descended the bus and checked their names with security officials before boarding once more.
An activist group in Madaya announced on its Facebook page that wounded residents and "their companions" had begun to leave town.
"They will head first to Damascus, then to Idlib," said the group, the United Relief Organisation in Madaya and Zabadani.
And a Syrian security source said a first bus carrying about a dozen people - including "wounded and their families" - had also left Fuaa and Kafraya.
The United Nations announced on April 7 that it was planning "a very major" medical evacuation in the four towns.
"Altogether it could be up to 500 people," Jan Egeland, who heads a UN-backed humanitarian taskforce for Syria, told reporters in Geneva.
Aid deliveries to the four towns are always simultaneous and equal: the same numbers of aid convoys must enter the different towns at the same time.
A similar stipulation applied for those being evacuated.
More than 270,000 people have been killed since Syria's conflict erupted in 2011, and millions have been forced to flee their homes.