Monday, December 11, 2017

Moscow to start evacuating Russians from Syria

MOSCOW — Russia announced Monday that it was sending two airplanes from its emergency services fleet to Beirut, Lebanon, to evacuate about 100 Russian citizens leaving Syria, reflecting Moscow's assessment that President Bashar Assad's forces are losing control of the country after nearly two years of fighting.

It was not clear whether the news signaled the beginning of a large-scale evacuation. Russia has an estimated 30,000 citizens in Syria, including government and military personnel, private contractors and thousands of women married to Syrian men. About a dozen Russian ships are in the Mediterranean off the coast of Syria for naval exercises and could, officials said, be used to evacuate Russian citizens.

Irina Rossius, a spokeswoman for Russia's Emergency Services Ministry, said two airplanes would fly to Beirut today "so that all Russians who wish to, can leave Syria," Interfax reported. She said more than 100 Russians are expected to leave. It is now common for people leaving Damascus, if they can afford it, to avoid the contested route to the city's airport by driving to Beirut and flying out from there.

Rossius did not say who was evacuating, but conditions for diplomats have deteriorated.

The conflict continued to rage Monday, with the government accusing rebels of attacking an important power line, blacking out Damascus and areas to the north and a swath of territory reaching south to the Jordanian border.

Power failures have been frequent reminders of the conflict that has engulfed Syria, but the latest one appeared to be the first to affect the entire capital, where Assad's forces are still largely in control. The Associated Press reported power restored in parts of Damascus on Monday.

In Istanbul, the main exile opposition group, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, once again failed to form a transitional government, deciding instead to postpone the step while new proposals are drawn up.

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