AMMAN -- Syrian intelligence agents have arrested at least 230 men out of a group of civilians who were evacuated this week from a Damascus suburb besieged by President Bashar al-Assad's forces under a rare deal with rebels, activists said today.
The deal had enabled 1,800 civilians to flee the Sunni Muslim town of Mouadamiya on Tuesday, but most males aged between 14 and 45 among them were arrested and taken to an Airforce Intelligence compound and a school turned into a makeshift detention centre, they said.
“The regime's forces violated the deal as soon as it was executed. They separated the males when they arrived at the entrance of the town and arrested them,” said Ahmad al-Mouadamani, an activist in Mouadamiya who uses an alias.
“A few were released on the spot but 230 were put in buses and taken away, some of them are amputees and mentally disabled,” he added.
The report could not be independently verified, and there was no immediate comment from Syrian authorities. The government had said the residents of Mouadamiya are being “held hostage” by terrorists.
Mouadamiya, 8 kms (5 miles) southwest of Damascus, is one of a series of Sunni districts on the edge of the capital that have been at the forefront of the uprising against Assad, who belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has controlled Syria since the 1960s.
A statement by the Syrian League of Human Rights, a group headed by dissident Abdelkarim al-Rihawi, said 20 wounded people were among those arrested and that the organisation “is highly concerned that the detainees will be tortured.”
“We call on the international community to act swiftly to save the lives of thousands of civilians still trapped in the town. They are being subjected to a campaign of starvation by the Syrian authorities as collective punishment.”
Assad's forces used sieges to root out rebels from residential areas during the uprising that has turned into a civil war. At least 100,000 have been killed in the conflict and millions were displaced.
The evacuation on Tuesday was the third from Mouadamiya. The United Nations says 3,000 women and children have already left. The opposition says 12,000 people face starvation and death in the town, which they describe as 90 percent destroyed.
International pressure has mounted on Syrian authorities to open humanitarian corridors to deliver aid to besieged civilians but relief agencies say they have not been granted access.