Evacuation of civilians from east Aleppo resumes after hold-up: UN

Residents from the mostly Shiite Syrian villages of Kafraya and Fuaa, which are besieged by opposition fighters, wait in a bus to get a green light from the rebels to cross into a government controlled area in the province of Aleppo, on Dec 20, 20016
Residents from the mostly Shiite Syrian villages of Kafraya and Fuaa, which are besieged by opposition fighters, wait in a bus to get a green light from the rebels to cross into a government controlled area in the province of Aleppo, on Dec 20, 20016.PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA (REUTERS) – Buses carrying evacuees started leaving the last rebel-held enclave of Syria’s Aleppo again on Wednesday, aid agencies said, raising hopes that a last minute hold-up had been resolved. 

Civilians have been waiting in freezing temperatures since plans to get them out of the war-battered city hit problems on Tuesday. Sixty buses were stuck there, a war monitor said earlier on Wednesday, as TV pictures showed vehicles covered in snow. 

But a UN official in Syria told Reuters by email at 1400 GMT (10pm Singapore time) that buses had started moving again from east Aleppo. “We hope that this continues so that people can be safely evacuated,” the official added. 

Government forces agreed the evacuations as part of a deal that also included the evacuation of people from Shi’ite Muslim villages besieged by rebels in Idlib.  Eight buses en route to Aleppo from those villages of al-Foua and Kefraya had also been held up since Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said. 

More UN staff have arrived in east Aleppo to help monitor the evacuation, in line with a resolution unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council on Monday (Dec 19), UN spokesman Jensen Clarke said in Geneva. 

Syrian TV said that four buses and two ambulances arrived in government-controlled Aleppo from al-Foua and Kefraya in Idlib, while 15 buses containing fighters and their families had started to leave East Aleppo. 

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is running the operation with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), confirmed that the evacuation had resumed. Weather conditions were “harsh” and people “exhausted”, it said earlier in a tweet.

“All patients have been evacuated, al-Quds hospital (the only remaining hospital in the enclave), is now empty, and all other urgent medical cases have now been evacuated,” ICRC spokeswoman Kris Armstrong told Reuters in Geneva. 

Footage which Syrian state television said was of the buses waiting to leave Aleppo, showed falling snow and snow-covered ground around the buses.