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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Syrians Flee What Some Called the ‘City of Death’

Activists in Moadhamiya recorded images of the new exodus from the suburb on Tuesday.

New video images show hundreds of civilians, balancing belongings on their heads, carrying children and assisting people using canes or wheelchairs, streaming out of the Damascus suburb of Moadhamiya, which had been blockaded for months by the government.

With its food and aid shortages, the situation in the besieged suburb, one of several areas hit in the August chemical attacks that killed hundreds, is perhaps the most dire of many similar crises across the country, as my colleague Anne Barnard reported this month. The exodus on Tuesday was made possible under a cease-fire brokered between rebels there and a delegation including a Roman Catholic nun and Syria’s minister of social affairs.

Video with Tuesday’s date, Oct. 29, was posted by activists, showing citizens’ exodus from Moadhamiya.

Moadhamiya, about seven miles south of central Damascus, was sealed off nine months ago by the government’s army, which residents and aid workers say has blockaded supplies of food and medicine. The government holds the rebel fighters responsible, saying they are holding the civilians hostage. Several thousand civilians left this month during two brief cease-fires; a third was called off when government shelling erupted, Ms. Barnard has reported.

As my colleague Liam Stack has previously reported on Watching Syria’s War, the situation was so bad in Moadhamiya that some residents called it the “City of Death.” Civilians fled through orchards to escape the shelling during a previous attempt to leave.

The footage of the latest departure by civilians on Tuesday showed people struggling with belongings and assisting others as they evacuated.

Another activist channel recorded video of civilians leaving Moadhamiya on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the BBC’s Lyse Doucet, on her Twitter account @bbclysedoucet and the BBC’s website, reported descriptions and quotes from the migration of civilians she interviewed near the entrance to the suburb. She said in a broadcast that “thousands of civilians” were being allowed out, some so weak that they were transported on stretchers and in wheelchairs.

“They have been absolutely desperate,” she reported. “If you could see the faces that I am seeing now going past me: toddlers carrying bags, dragging bags along in the dirt as big as them, clutching bottles of water and bits of bread.”

Despite Tuesday’s evacuations, thousands of people still remain in the town, trapped with little food, water or medicine, Reuters reported.

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.