Aleppo evacuations fail to materialize amid lull
U.N. official says opposition fighters hindering efforts
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.