Aleppo evac­u­a­tions fail to ma­te­ri­al­ize amid lull

U.N. of­fi­cial says op­po­si­tion fight­ers hin­der­ing ef­forts

Baltimore Sun - - WORLD - By Sarah El Deeb and Jamey Keaten

BEIRUT — A cease-fire to al­low wounded civil­ians and rebels to leave be­sieged parts of Aleppo has been ex­tended into the week­end by Rus­sia, but hoped-for med­i­cal evac­u­a­tions didn’t ma­te­ri­al­ize by Fri­day evening be­cause of a lack of se­cu­rity guar­an­tees, of­fi­cials and res­i­dents said.

The dawn-to-dusk “hu­man­i­tar­ian pause” that be­gan Thurs­day will last into Satur­day on the or­ders of Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, said Lt. Gen. Sergei Rud­skoi, speak­ing in Moscow. It had been due to ex­pire Fri­day.

The lull had been greeted with high hopes by United Na­tions of­fi­cials, and the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment opened a new cor­ri­dor for those want­ing to flee the neigh­bor­hoods shat­tered by weeks of Rus­sian and Syr­ian airstrikes. But by Fri­day evening, no evac­u­a­tions were seen along the cor­ri­dor, re­flect­ing the in­tractable na­ture of Syria’s civil war, rag­ing since 2011.

Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the U.N.’s hu­man­i­tar­ian aid agency, de­scribed an “as­tro­nom­i­cally dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion,” although he de­clined to spec­ify who was re­spon­si­ble for the break­down.

He told re­porters in Geneva that the evac­u­a­tions couldn’t be­gin “be­cause the nec­es­sary con­di­tions were not in place to en­sure safe, se­cure and vol­un­tary” move­ment of peo­ple.

A U.N. of­fi­cial said that Syr­ian op­po­si­tion fight­ers were block­ing the evac­u­a­tions be­cause the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment and Rus­sia were not hold­ing up their end of the deal and were im­ped­ing de­liv­er­ies of The lull in fight­ing in Syria has been greeted with high hopes by United Na­tions of­fi­cials in Geneva, Switzer­land. med­i­cal and hu­man­i­tar­ian sup­plies into Aleppo.

The of­fi­cial, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity pend­ing re­lease of an of­fi­cial state­ment, said in­ten­sive ef­forts were un­der­way in Da­m­as­cus, Aleppo, Geneva and Gaziantep, Turkey, to try to move for­ward on the evac­u­a­tions.

Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov said al-Qaida-linked mil­i­tants in Aleppo were re­fus­ing to leave the city along the cor­ri­dors cre­ated by the Rus­sians and Syr­ian forces “de­spite the ges­tures of good­will from Moscow and Da­m­as­cus,” he told re­porters in the Rus­sian cap­i­tal.

Mil­i­tants from the alQaida af­fil­i­ate for­merly known as the Nusra Front are be­lieved to make up a mi­nor­ity of the sev­eral thou­sand fight­ers in the be­sieged district.

Rud­skoi, of the Rus­sian De­fense Min­istry, ac­cused mil­i­tants of fir­ing at hu­man­i­tar­ian cor­ri­dors and us­ing the break to pre­pare for an of­fen­sive.

“The ter­ror­ists are do­ing ev­ery­thing to pre­vent civil­ians and the mil­i­tants from leav­ing eastern Aleppo,” he said. “All our re­quests to the Amer­i­can col­leagues to put the pres­sure on the so­called mod­er­ate op­po­si­tion to per­suade them to end the shelling, let civil­ians leave or leave them­selves, have been left unan­swered.”

He said eight wounded mil­i­tants left Thurs­day and were driven to­ward re­bel­con­trolled Idlib, while seven civil­ians man­aged to flee at night.

The pan-Arab Al-Mayadeen TV sta­tion showed video of gov­ern­ment bull­doz­ers that had opened a road, with buses and am­bu­lances parked and wait­ing to take out evac­uees.

Res­i­dents of eastern Aleppo have said many won’t use the cor­ri­dors be­cause there are no guar­an­tees they won’t be ar­rested by gov­ern­ment forces.

“No one has left the city so far,” Mohammed Abu Ra­jab said. “Peo­ple are wor­ried they might be de­tained.”

Yasser al-Youssef, a mem­ber of the po­lit­i­cal bu­reau of the Nour el-Din el-Zinki rebel group, said the op­po­si­tion had agreed to the ini­tia­tive to evac­u­ate wounded and al­low in aid, but the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment and Rus­sia gave no as­sur­ances the wounded would not face ar­rest.

The U.N. had said it re­ceived as­sur­ances for the ex­ten­sion of the cease-fire un­til Mon­day, but the Krem­lin didn’t con­firm that, say­ing only that it was pos­si­ble if mil­i­tants don’t abuse it.

MAR­TIAL TREZZINI/AP

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