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US blocks Syrian-Russian delegation from occupied Al Tanf zone, rejects talks on trapped refugees

US blocks Syrian-Russian delegation from occupied Al Tanf zone, rejects talks on trapped refugees
The US troops occupying a 55-km zone in southern Syria have blocked Russian and Syrian diplomatic and military officials from entering. The delegation said they wanted to assess the state of the ill-famed Rukban refugee camp.

The delegation was denied access to the Al Tanf zone, where it planned to monitor and conduct detailed assessments of refugees living at the remote and overpopulated Rukban camp.

They had also invited US officials for a meeting to “develop step-by-step activities” aimed at dismantling the camp, however, both offers were rebuffed by the US command.

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“The American side, which is directly responsible for what is happening in the Al Tanf zone illegally occupied by them, ignored the initiative aimed at saving the residents of Rukban and refused to participate in the coordination meeting,” said the joint statement by Russia-Syria coordination center on refugee repatriation.

Noting that the US command’s position was “puzzling,” the center added that the refusal of access to the zone was under the “false pretenses” of humanitarianism. Instead, it accused the Americans of “trying to hide crimes” against Syrians living in the US-occupied zone.

“Despite assurances from our American partners about joint cooperation, their goal is clearly not to save people dying from unsanitary, hunger, cold and diseases of the Syrian citizens,” the statement added.

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However, the center extended yet another invitation to the US command to a new coordination meeting on April 2, aimed at making “concrete joint steps” towards disbanding the camp.

The US command in Al Tanf had previously delayed the delivery of aid to Rukban from Damascus, after refusing to guarantee its safety while it passed through its zone. It has also prevented buses sent by Damascus and guarded by Russian military police from taking Syrians from the camp to other parts of Syria from permanent resettlement.

Since opening in 2014, Rukban is home to more than 40,000 Syrians, the majority of which have expressed a desire to return home. A survey released by the UN in February found that nine out of 10 living at the camp wanted to return. However, many expressed worry over gaining access to their property, possible retribution, as well as general safety and security concerns.

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