Aleppo Syria battle: Evacuation of rebel-held east under way

An operation to evacuate a besieged rebel-held enclave in the Syrian city of Aleppo is now well under way.

Aleppo Syria battle: Evacuation of rebel-held east under way

Aleppo Syria battle: Evacuation of rebel-held east under way

Syrian state TV showed footage of at least 10 ambulances and a long line of green buses leaving eastern Aleppo.

The evacuation of civilians, rebels and wounded people had been due to take place on Wednesday but an earlier ceasefire deal collapsed.

Government forces took nearly all remaining rebel-held parts of Aleppo this week after a four-year battle.

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Syrian state TV earlier said that “4,000 rebels and their families would be evacuated from eastern districts on Thursday”, adding that “all the procedures for their evacuation” were ready.

A statement from the Russian Centre for the Reconciliation of Opposing Sides in Syria, part of Russia’s ministry of defence, said the Syrian authorities had guaranteed the safety of all members of the armed groups who decided to leave Aleppo.

Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia Muslim movement backing the Syrian government, said there had been “big complications” but that “intensive contacts… led to re-consolidating a ceasefire to exit armed fighters from eastern districts”.

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The rebels confirmed a fresh ceasefire had come into effect at 03:00 GMT and that a new deal had been agreed.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Middle East regional director Robert Mardini said its operation was “well under way” and that “our teams are safe and doing all they can on the ground”.

The Russian defence ministry confirmed the first buses carrying rebels were now leaving eastern Aleppo.

As operations began, an ambulance service official in eastern Aleppo said that one convoy of ambulances had been shot at, with three people injured.

The White Helmets civil defence group tweeted that one senior volunteer had been shot and injured by a sniper while clearing an evacuation route for ambulances.

Where will the evacuees be taken?

Russia’s defence ministry has said buses are taking the injured, civilians and rebel fighters to the neighbouring province of Idlib, most of which is controlled by a powerful rebel alliance that includes the jihadist group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.

The buses left Aleppo via the road through the government-controlled south-western district of Ramousseh, heading towards the nearby rebel-held towns of Khan Touman and Khan al-Asal.

The chief of the Russian military’s General Staff, Gen Valery Gerasimov, told a news briefing: “A humanitarian corridor has been created for the evacuation of militants.

“This corridor is 21km long,” he said, adding, “6km lie across Aleppo’s territories controlled by government troops and another 15km through territories in the hands of illegal armed groups.”

Twenty passenger buses and 10 ambulances were being used for the operation, the general said. Some rebels were using their own vehicles, numbering 100, he said.

in Aleppo, says the government has indicated that the evacuated civilians will be able to choose whether they want to leave or stay in the city.

BBC producer Riam Dalati says ambulances from Syria Charity, carrying seriously wounded people from eastern Aleppo, have now arrived at the Turkish border.

And Al Jazeera reported that a bus with injured residents had arrived in al-Atarib district in the western Aleppo countryside, after passing through Ramousseh.

How many remain in eastern Aleppo?

It’s believed up to 50,000 people remain. That is said to include about 4,000 fighters and about 10,000 family members of fighters.

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura says approximately 30% of the fighters are from the jihadist group formerly known as the al-Nusra Front.

Aleppo’s besieged residents have faced weeks of bombardment and chronic food and fuel shortages.

Medical facilities in the city have largely been reduced to rubble, as rebels have been squeezed into ever-smaller areas by a major government offensive, backed by Russian air power.

Why did the earlier deal fail?

On Wednesday morning, buses and ambulances had been brought to evacuate rebel fighters and their families – only to be turned away shortly afterwards.

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Syria’s government and its ally Iran had insisted the evacuation from eastern Aleppo could happen only with the simultaneous evacuation of two villages – Foah and Kefraya – being besieged by rebels in north-western Syria.

Syrian state TV said on Thursday that 29 buses and ambulances were on their way into the villages to carry out evacuations there.

Hours after the first agreement – brokered mainly by Russia and Turkey – collapsed, air strikes resumed over rebel-held territory.

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