Some 400 men, including rebels and draft evaders from besieged areas of Syria’s city of Homs, who recently surrendered to the authorities, fear they may be held indefinitely, activists said Tuesday.
Evacuations from the battered districts began in February, during a UN-supervised humanitarian operation that saw some 1,400 people leave the blockaded rebel areas.
The operation was initially intended to allow women, children and the elderly to leave the areas, where people have been surviving on little more than herbs for nearly two years, but scores of men also left.
Then, some two weeks ago, another 300 men — mainly rebel fighters and draft evaders — also left the siege, including a civilian activist who identified himself as Omar.
“There was a promise that the army defectors (rebel fighters) would be released if they handed in their weapons, and they did. There was talk that we draft evaders would be released too, but till now, there is nothing,” said Omar.
He and the other men are all still being held at a former school called Al-Andalus, located in Homs city.
Omar says they are being held in good conditions “but we don’t know anything about what will happen to us. We are waiting and waiting.”
Speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, a UN source in Syria confirmed that 300 men “left (the siege) spontaneously, without negotiations and without a ceasefire. They are currently in Al-Andalus school.”
The source also said local charities are delivering food to them.
For his part, Homs Governor Talal al-Barazi said: “Every day some 10 to 25 men leave (besieged) Old Homs) and hand over their weapons. We welcome them in a hospitality centre for as long as we need to study their situation.”
“Each person has a specific case. Some stay (in Al-Andalus) for two days, others for a week, and others for longer. Last Friday we cleared 54 men.”
The governor told AFP he does not know how many men in total are being held in the school.
The detainees’ fears come amid a major escalation of violence against the besieged, rebel areas. For the first time since last summer, the army entered the besieged area on Tuesday, under cover of fire.