In Aleppo, fi­nal phase of evac­u­a­tions un­der­way

Freez­ing tem­per­a­tures worsen city’s con­di­tions

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY PHILIP ISSA

BEIRUT | The fi­nal phase of evac­u­a­tions from for­mer rebel strongholds in eastern Aleppo got un­der­way Wed­nes­day, with some fam­i­lies hud­dling around fires amid sleet and snow as they pre­pared for their de­par­ture from the war-torn city.

The In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross said all pa­tients and those need­ing med­i­cal care had been moved out of the last hospi­tal in the east Wed­nes­day evening.

Once the evac­u­a­tions are com­pleted, the gov­ern­ment can as­sume full con­trol of Aleppo, more than four years after op­po­si­tion fight­ers seized large ar­eas of what was once Syria’s largest city.

Syr­ian op­po­si­tion fight­ers agreed last week to sur­ren­der their last foothold in the city, mark­ing the most sig­nif­i­cant vic­tory for Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad since an up­ris­ing against his fam­ily’s four-decade rule swept the coun­try in 2011.

The deal fol­lowed a pun­ish­ing of­fen­sive by gov­ern­ment troops and mil­i­tary al­lies Rus­sia and Iran that drove out tens of thou­sands of civil­ians from rebel-held ar­eas of the city.

Thou­sands of fight­ers and civil­ians — with es­ti­mates rang­ing be­tween 18,000 and 25,000 — have been bused out of eastern Aleppo since the evac­u­a­tions be­gan last week.

The op­po­si­tion’s Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said Wed­nes­day that some 3,000 fight­ers and civil­ians were still await­ing evac­u­a­tion from the city’s last op­po­si­tion-held neigh­bor­hoods, where some 60 buses were to trans­port them out.

A con­voy of buses and cars later drove out of the city un­der heavy snow.

By Wed­nes­day evening, 25 buses from eastern Aleppo had reached the gov­ern­ment-held west­ern out­skirts of the city, said op­po­si­tion ac­tivist Ah­mad Primo. He spoke to The As­so­ci­ated Press from the Rashideen area, where he was mon­i­tor­ing the ar­rivals.

The bus move­ments came after evac­u­a­tions had been sus­pended for 24 hours. Syr­ian state TV said they had re­sumed after rebels handed over pris­on­ers taken in pre­vi­ous rounds of fight­ing.

As part of a wider deal, rebels are sup­posed to al­low evac­u­a­tions of the sick and wounded from two re­belbe­sieged vil­lages, Foua and Kfarya. The ICRC said about 750 peo­ple have al­ready been bused out of the vil­lages, leav­ing hun­dreds more to evac­u­ated.

Mean­while, freez­ing tem­per­a­tures wors­ened al­ready dire con­di­tions in eastern Aleppo, where months of heav­ing bom­bard­ments have caused large-scale dev­as­ta­tion.

Ac­tivists cir­cu­lated pho­tos on so­cial me­dia of fam­i­lies hud­dled around fires amid the sleet and snow.

The in­ter­na­tional group Save The Chil­dren said the cold is fur­ther ham­per­ing aid ef­forts on the ground, amid chronic shortages of food, medicine and blan­kets.

A 7-year-old Syr­ian girl who was evac­u­ated on Mon­day and whose mother ran a Twit­ter ac­count in her name met Wed­nes­day with Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan in the Turk­ish cap­i­tal, Ankara.

Bana Alabed’s mother, Fatemah, set up and be­gan op­er­at­ing the ac­count in Septem­ber, tweet­ing on her daugh­ter’s be­half. The ac­count has gar­nered some 354,000 fol­low­ers.

The child’s so­cial me­dia ac­count has in­cluded tweets to peo­ple such as Michelle Obama and Turk­ish Foreign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu, ask­ing them for help.

Else­where in north­ern Syria, fight­ing be­tween the Is­lamic State on one side, and Turk­ish and Syr­ian op­po­si­tion forces on the other, killed four Turk­ish sol­diers, ac­cord­ing to Turkey’s state Anadolu news agency.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Syr­i­ans evac­u­ated from the em­bat­tled Syr­ian city of Aleppo dur­ing the cease-fire ar­rive at a refugee camp in Rashidin, Syria, on Tues­day. Freez­ing tem­per­a­tures wors­ened Aleppo’s war-rav­aged con­di­tions.

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