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US-backed militants block evacuation of ‘death camp’ in Syria: Russia

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The file photo, taken on March 1, 2017, shows Syrian refugee patients from the makeshift Rukban camp, which lies in no-man's-land off the border between Syria and Jordan in the remote northeast, cross over to visit a UN-operated medical clinic immediately on the Jordanian-side for checkups. (By AFP)

Russia says the United States and its allied militants are blocking the evacuation of a refugee camp in southern Syria, where refugees are living in appalling conditions.

The Russian army said a UN-led operation to evacuate thousands of refugees from the camp is scheduled to start on September 27 and will take 30 days.

General Mikhail Mizintsev, however, said at a news conference on Wednesday that the evacuation was “on the verge of collapse because of provocations by rebels under US control.”

The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that the militants refused to ensure the safety of evacuation convoys.

The militants seized a large part of the humanitarian aid sent by the UN and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to the camp earlier this month, sparking wide protests that were met with live ammunition fired by the militants.

The camp houses thousands of people who live in conditions described by the World Health Organization as “deplorable,” lacking food, access to medical care and basic amenities.

The UN says some 12,700 people remain in the camp, which lies within a 55-kilometer zone occupied by the US around its military base in the Syrian town of Tanf.

Major General Alexey Bakin, the head of the Russian center for Syrian reconciliation, said on Friday that the US-backed militants intend to use the refugees as human shields.

Syria and Russia opened humanitarian corridors out of the camp in February to allow refugees to leave.

But the Russian and Syrian coordination headquarters said in a joint statement released in July that the armed groups demand up to $1,500 per family for leaving the Rukban “death camp.”

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