March 22, 2019

Evacuation of rebel-held east under way

truckAn operation to evacuate a besieged rebel-held enclave in the Syrian city of Aleppo is now well under way.
Syrian state TV showed footage of ambulances and a long line of green buses leaving eastern Aleppo.
BBC producer Riam Dalati says the first convoy has now arrived at a “handover point” in rebel-held areas to the west.
The evacuation of civilians, rebels and their families had been due to take place on Wednesday but an earlier ceasefire deal collapsed.
Government forces, backed by Russian allies, took nearly all remaining rebel-held parts of Aleppo this week after a four-year battle.
It represents a major victory for President Bashar al-Assad. He hailed the “liberation” of Aleppo and said history was being made.
Latest reports from Aleppo
Syrian state TV had 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”.
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.
Elizabeth Hoff, of the World Health Organization, said the operation was “going smoothly”.
How many remain in eastern Aleppo?
The figures vary wildly. Generally it’s believed up to 50,000 people remained ahead of the evacuation.
That is said to include about 4,000 fighters and about 10,000 family members of fighters.

However, one Turkish government minister said up to 100,000 people might have to be evacuated.
A Syrian military source told AFP that close to 1,000 people were in the first convoy, which suggests the operation could be lengthy.
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.
Russian Lt Gen Viktor Poznikhir said on Thursday that, with the evacuation, the Syrian armed forces had almost finished their operations in Aleppo.
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.
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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