Hundreds evacuated from rebel-held area of Aleppo

Aleppo's evacuation begins after a delay but ambulances trying to bring people from rebel-held eastern Aleppo come under fire from fighters loyal to the Syrian government, who kill at least one person.
A staff member of the Syrian Red Crescent standing in a bus with rebel fighters and their families during the evacuation operation from Aleppo yesterday. The first convoy, which includes 13 ambulances and 20 buses, is making its way to rural parts of
A staff member of the Syrian Red Crescent standing in a bus with rebel fighters and their families during the evacuation operation from Aleppo yesterday. The first convoy, which includes 13 ambulances and 20 buses, is making its way to rural parts of western Aleppo.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Women, children, rebel fighters and the injured among 951 who left in first convoy

ALEPPO • Dozens of buses and ambulances drove out of the rebel-held part of Aleppo yesterday, carrying people being evacuated as part of a ceasefire deal after a siege by Syrian government forces and their allies that lasted for months.

Syrian state television showed the convoy of ambulances followed by a long line of green buses snaking out of Al-Amiriyah district and crossing into government- held Ramussa en route to rebel-held territory in the west of Aleppo province.

International Committee of the Red Cross spokesman Ingy Sedky said the first convoy included 13 ambulances and 20 buses carrying civilians. "They have crossed the front line and are on their way to rural parts of western Aleppo," she added.

A Syrian official source said 951 people, including women, children and the wounded, have been evacuated in the first convoy.

Rebel fighters were also among those who left under the agreement brokered by government backer Russia and opposition supporter Turkey.

 

Earlier, ambulances trying to evacuate people came under fire from fighters loyal to the Syrian government, who injured three people, a rescue service spokesman said.

Russia, a major ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said the evacuation of 5,000 Syrian rebels and their family members from eastern Aleppo had started.

The ceasefire and evacuation will end years of fighting in Aleppo between the Syrian government and allied Shi'ite militia fighters, and mostly Sunni rebels seeking to oust Mr Assad after revolting in 2011 during the Arab uprisings.

By fully retaking control of Aleppo, which was Syria's largest city before the war, Mr Assad will secure the biggest battlefield victory of the conflict, pushing rebels out of their biggest urban stronghold.

The rebels have been backed by the United States, Turkey and Gulf monarchies, but that support has fallen far short of the direct military assistance given to Mr Assad by Russia and Iran.

Russia's decision to deploy its air force to Syria more than a year ago turned the war in Mr Assad's favour after rebel advances across western Syria.

The fragile evacuation deal was supposed to begin on Wednesday morning, but collapsed briefly with a return to violence sending panicked civilians, who had gathered to leave, scrambling to find safety.

After hours of talks, the deal was revived and was expected to be implemented throughout yesterday and possibly into the coming days.

Residents hoping to be taken out have been burning personal belongings they cannot take along but do not want to leave for government forces to loot.

One resident said: "Outside every building you see a small fire, papers, women's clothes."

Syria had guaranteed the safety of rebels and their families, who would be taken towards Idlib, a city in north-western Syria which is outside government control.

Russia has promised there will be a pause in fighting in Idlib for the evacuation, Mr Jan Egeland, UN humanitarian adviser on Syria, said yesterday.

The UN was drawing up contingency plans for up to 100,000 displaced people to move to Idlib and was working with opposition ally Turkey to set up large-scale camps, he added.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2016, with the headline 'Hundreds evacuated from rebel-held area of Aleppo'. Print Edition | Subscribe