Evacuation halted as both sides trade blame
Fears rise cease-fire will collapse with thousands desperate to escape
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.