Evacuations in Aleppo resume after hold-up
BEIRUT: Buses carrying Syrian civilians and fighters began leaving the last rebel-held enclave of Aleppo yesterday after being stalled for a day, aid officials and progovernment media reports said. Obstacles hindering evacuations from east Aleppo and from two villages besieged by rebels outside the city had been overcome and the operation would be completed within hours, according to a news service run by the Lebanese group Hezbollah, an ally of the Syrian government.
The eventual departure of the thousands left in the insurgent zone will hand full control of the city to President Bashar Al-Assad, the biggest prize of Syria’s nearly six-year-old civil war. “Buses are now moving again from east Aleppo. We hope that this continues so that people can be safely evacuated,” a UN official in Syria told Reuters, as snow began to fall on Aleppo. People had been waiting in freezing temperatures since the evacuation hit problems on Tuesday, with dozens of buses stuck in Aleppo and the evacuation of the two Shiite villages, Al-Foua and Kefraya, also stalled. Rebels and government forces blamed each other for the hold-up.
With obstructions to the evacuation plan apparently overcome, the Hezbollah news service said 20 buses carrying fighters and their families had moved from east Aleppo yesterday towards rebel-held countryside. Syrian TV said four buses and two ambulances arrived in government-controlled parts of Aleppo from Al-Foua and Kefraya. Government forces had insisted the two villages must be included in the deal to bring people out of east Aleppo.
So far, about 25,000 people have been evacuated from Aleppo, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. A UN official said 750 people had so far been evacuated from Al-Foua and Kefraya. Aleppo’s rebel zone is a wasteland of flattened buildings, concrete rubble and bullet-pocked walls, where tens of thousands lived until recent days under intense bombardment even after medical and rescue services had collapsed. Rebel-held parts of the once-flourishing economic center with its renowned ancient sites have been pulverized in a war which has killed more than 300,000, created the world’s worst refugee crisis and allowed for the rise of Islamic State. But in the western part of the city, held throughout the war by the government, there were big street parties on Tuesday night, along with the lighting of a Christmas tree, as residents celebrated the end of fighting.