Evac­u­a­tion halted as both sides trade blame

Fears rise cease-fire will col­lapse with thou­sands des­per­ate to es­cape

The Denver Post - - NATION & WORLD - By Bassem Mroue

BEIRUT» Di­plo­mats sought to sal­vage the evac­u­a­tion of east­ern Aleppo af­ter it stalled Fri­day amid re­crim­i­na­tions by both sides in Syria’s civil war, rais­ing fears the cease-fire could col­lapse with thou­sands still des­per­ate to es­cape the rebel en­clave.

The Aleppo evac­u­a­tion was sus­pended af­ter a re­port of shoot­ing at a cross­ing point into the en­clave. The Syr­ian govern­ment pulled out its buses that since Thurs­day had been fer­ry­ing out peo­ple from the city that has suf­fered un­der in­tense bom­bard­ment, fierce bat­tles and a pro­longed siege.

“The car­nage in Syria re­mains a gap­ing hole in the global con­science,” said U.N. Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon. “Aleppo is now a syn­onym for hell.”

The halt also ap­peared to be linked to a sep­a­rate deal to re­move thou­sands of peo­ple from the govern­ment-held Shi­ite vil­lages of Foua and Kfarya that are un­der siege by the rebels. The Syr­ian govern­ment says those evac­u­a­tions and the one in east­ern Aleppo must be done si­mul­ta­ne­ously, but the rebels say there’s no con­nec­tion.

The for­eign min­is­ter of Tur­key, a main backer of the rebels, said he was talk­ing to his coun­ter­part in Iran, a top ally of the Syr­ian govern­ment, to try to re­sume the evac­u­a­tion.

The cease-fire and evac­u­a­tion marked the end of the rebels’ most im­por­tant strong­hold in the 5-year-old civil war. The sus­pen­sion demon­strated the fragility of the cease-fire deal, in which civil­ians and fight­ers in the few re­main­ing blocks of the rebel en­clave were to be taken to op­po­si­tion-held ter­ri­tory nearby.

Reports dif­fered on how many peo­ple re­main in the Aleppo en­clave, rang­ing from 15,000 to 40,000 civil­ians, along with an es­ti­mated 6,000 fight­ers.

More than 2,700 chil­dren have been evac­u­ated in the past 24 hours, in­clud­ing the sick, wounded and those with­out their par­ents, UNICEF said. Hun­dreds of other vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren, in­clud­ing or­phans, re­main trapped, it added. “We are ex­tremely con­cerned about their fate. If these chil­dren are not evac­u­ated ur­gently, they could die,” UNICEF said in a state­ment.

There are still “high num­bers of women and in­fants, chil­dren un­der 5, that need to get out,” added El­iz­a­beth Hoff, Syr­ian rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, speak­ing by phone from west­ern Aleppo.

Dur­ing Thurs­day night’s evac­u­a­tion, Pawel Krzysiek of the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross told The As­so­ci­ated Press he could sense “fear, des­per­a­tion (and) anx­i­ety” among those wait­ing to es­cape.

An in­jured Syr­ian woman from Aleppo re­acts as she is be­ing trans­ported from the Syr­ian side of the Bab al-Hawa bor­der cross­ing to a hos­pi­tal in Tur­key on Fri­day. The Syr­ian govern­ment sus­pended the evac­u­a­tion. Photos by Bu­lent Kilic, Getty Im­ages

An in­jured Syr­ian man waits with his child out­side a hos­pi­tal af­ter they crossed the bor­der into Tur­key.

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