Thou­sands evac­u­ated from Aleppo af­ter deal

7-yr-old blog­ger heads to Turkey

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

ALEPPO: Thou­sands of trau­ma­tized Syr­i­ans in­clud­ing chil­dren left the rebel en­clave of Aleppo yes­ter­day as the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil voted to de­ploy ob­servers to the bat­tered city to mon­i­tor the evac­u­a­tions. Fam­i­lies had spent hours wait­ing in be­low-freez­ing tem­per­a­tures, shel­ter­ing from the rain in bombed-out apart­ment blocks and wait­ing des­per­ately for news on a new wave of depar­tures. Af­ter an ag­o­niz­ing de­lay, the op­er­a­tion re­sumed yes­ter­day un­der a com­plex agree­ment that will see regime forces ex­ert full con­trol over Syria’s se­cond city.

More than 7,000 peo­ple trav­elled in 100 buses out of Aleppo yes­ter­day, while dozens more ve­hi­cles were pre­par­ing to leave, said Ingy Sedky, spokes­woman for the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

“We will con­tinue through­out the day - and how­ever long it takes - to evac­u­ate the thou­sands more who are still wait­ing,” Sedky told AFP. The evac­uees in­cluded seven-year-old Bana Al-Abed, whose Twit­ter ac­count had of­fered a tragic ac­count of Syria’s nearly six-year war, as well as 47 chil­dren who had been trapped in an or­phan­age.

Ah­mad Al-Dbis, who heads a team of doc­tors and vol­un­teers co­or­di­nat­ing evac­u­a­tions, saw dozens of buses and am­bu­lances ar­rive at the stag­ing ground west of Aleppo. He said the evac­uees were in “a very bad state af­ter wait­ing for more than 16 hours” at a regime check­point with­out be­ing al­lowed off the buses. The gov­ern­ment had sus­pended evac­u­a­tions on Fri­day, in­sist­ing that peo­ple also be al­lowed to leave two north­west­ern vil­lages un­der rebel siege. Ac­cord­ing to the ICRC and the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights, around 500 peo­ple left in a dawn con­voy out of Fuaa and Kafraya.

The Ob­ser­va­tory said at least 14,000 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 4,000 rebels, have left the op­po­si­tion sec­tor since the evac­u­a­tions be­gan on Thurs­day. At least 7,000 re­main, ac­cord­ing to the Bri­tain-based mon­i­tor. A rebel rep­re­sen­ta­tive said that hun­dreds of peo­ple would also be evac­u­ated from Zabadani and Ma­daya, two army-be­sieged rebel towns near the bor­der with Le­banon, as part of the deal. Dbis said the Aleppo evac­uees’ de­par­ture was de­layed for hours in tem­per­a­tures well be­low freez­ing, com­pound­ing their plight from months of siege and bom­bard­ment by the army.

“They hadn’t eaten, they had noth­ing to drink, the chil­dren had caught colds, they were not even able to go to the toi­let,” he told AFP. He de­scribed fam­i­lies wrapped in sev­eral lay­ers of coats get­ting off the buses, which then headed back to Aleppo to bring out more. A young boy bit into an ap­ple as aid work­ers dis­trib­uted bot­tled wa­ter to his fam­ily. The UN’s chil­dren agency UNICEF said

some of the chil­dren res­cued from the or­phan­age had been in crit­i­cal con­di­tion be­cause of in­juries and de­hy­dra­tion. “Many vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren - in­clud­ing other or­phans and chil­dren sep­a­rated from their fam­i­lies - still re­main in east Aleppo and need im­me­di­ate pro­tec­tion,” it said in a state­ment.

The Hu­man­i­tar­ian Re­lief Foun­da­tion (IHH), a Turk­ish NGO work­ing in Syria, said seven-year-old blog­ger Bana had ar­rived at a camp for dis­placed per­sons in the north­west province of Idlib. The Turk­ish news agency Anadolu later posted a short in­ter­view with Bana af­ter her ar­rival, dressed in a warm coat and hat against the win­ter chill. “In Aleppo the shelling was all over the place. We got out from the ru­ins be­cause our house was bombed,” she said shyly in Ara­bic, be­fore turn­ing to­wards her mother.

Turk­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu - who had al­ready in­ter­acted with Bana on Twit­ter - said later that she would be brought to Turkey with her fam­ily, Anadolu said. For her 330,000 fol­low­ers, Bana is a sym­bol of the tragedy un­fold­ing in Syria, al­though Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad’s regime has slammed her and her mother’s nearly daily tweets as pro­pa­ganda. Bana’s ac­count has posted pic­tures of the de­struc­tion in Aleppo in­clud­ing her rub­ble-lit­tered street, while peo­ple have tweeted mes­sages of sup­port and con­cern, no­tably fear­ing for her life when tweets be­came less fre­quent.

Tarakji Ah­mad, pres­i­dent of Syr­ian Amer­i­can Med­i­cal So­ci­ety, also posted a pic­ture of Bana, with an aid worker. “@AlabedBana and many chil­dren ar­rived to #Aleppo coun­try­side. @sam­s_usa@UOSSM and part­ners are co­or­di­nat­ing the re­sponse plan there.” In her last tweet with her mother Fatemah be­fore the evac­u­a­tion, Bana made an ap­peal to Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan and Cavu­soglu to put a frag­ile cease­fire back on track af­ter fre­quent de­lays.

“Dear @Mev­lutCavu­soglu & @RT_Er­do­gan please please please make this cease­fire work & get us out now. We are so tired. - Fatemah #Aleppo.” Re­spond­ing in a tweet yes­ter­day, Cavu­soglu wrote: “Dif­fi­cul­ties on the ground won’t de­ter us sis­ter. Rest as­sured that we are do­ing all to get you and thou­sands of oth­ers to safety.” Cavu­soglu said yes­ter­day that a to­tal of 20,000 peo­ple had been evac­u­ated so far and ef­forts were con­tin­u­ing.

In an 11th-hour deal, regime ally Moscow and rebel sup­porter Ankara agreed on the evac­u­a­tion of thou­sands of civil­ians and fight­ers from the last re­main­ing op­po­si­tion­held pocket in Aleppo. Moscow, which has car­ried out an air war in sup­port of the Da­m­as­cus regime since Septem­ber last year, had threat­ened to veto a UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil draft res­o­lu­tion call­ing for mon­i­tors to over­see the pro­tec­tion of civil­ians. But yes­ter­day, the coun­cil unan­i­mously adopted the French-drafted res­o­lu­tion in the first show of unity in months among world pow­ers grap­pling with the Syria cri­sis.

The mea­sure tasks the UN with car­ry­ing out “ad­e­quate, neu­tral mon­i­tor­ing and di­rect ob­ser­va­tion on evac­u­a­tions from eastern Aleppo and other dis­tricts of the city”. It re­mained un­cer­tain, how­ever, whether the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment would give the ob­servers ac­cess to the city and al­low op­er­a­tions there to come un­der in­ter­na­tional scru­tiny. The for­eign and de­fense min­is­ters of Rus­sia, Turkey and Iran are due to meet in Moscow to­day to dis­cuss Syria.

The mea­sure tasks the UN with car­ry­ing out “ad­e­quate, neu­tral mon­i­tor­ing and di­rect ob­ser­va­tion on evac­u­a­tions from eastern Aleppo and other dis­tricts of the city”. It re­mained un­cer­tain, how­ever, whether the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment would give the ob­servers ac­cess to the city and al­low op­er­a­tions there to come un­der in­ter­na­tional scru­tiny. The for­eign and de­fense min­is­ters of Rus­sia, Turkey and Iran are due to meet in Moscow to­day to dis­cuss Syria. — Agen­cies

— AFP

A worker of Turk­ish NGO Hu­man­i­tar­ian Re­lief Foun­da­tion (IHH) Bu­rak Kara­caoglu takes a selfie with seven-year-old Bana Al-Abed in the Rashidin dis­trict in Syria af­ter she was evac­u­ated from Aleppo.

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