Russia accuses US, Syria rebels of blocking refugee evacuation

Moscow (AFP) –


Russia on Wednesday accused the US and Syrian rebels of blocking the evacuation of a refugee camp in southern Syria, where the UN has described conditions as "critical".

The Russian army called the isolated Rukban camp in a US-controlled desert near the Jordanian border a "death camp".

According to Moscow, a key backer of the Syrian regime, a UN-led evacuation operation is scheduled to begin on September 27 to transfer the camp's thousands of refugees to government-controlled territory.

But Russian army general Mikhail Mizintsev told a press conference the evacuation was "on the verge of collapse because of provocations by rebels under US control."

According to the Russian army, the rebels refused to ensure the safety of evacuation convoys and took some of the humanitarian aid distributed to the camp.

Rights groups have warned that civilians returning to government-led territory have faced detention and conscription.

The UN said it sent aid to the Rukban camp this month, the first such delivery since February.

According to the UN, some 12,700 people remain in the camp which is near a base used by the US-led coalition.

Syria and Russia said in February they had opened corridors out of the camp, calling on residents to leave.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish and Iranian counterparts met in Turkey this week for their latest summit on Syria, vowing to work together to prevent further humanitarian crises in the last rebel-held bastion of Idlib.

Russian airstrikes have continued in the region despite the latest ceasefire agreed by rebel-backer Ankara and Moscow on August 31.

Syria's civil war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.