Aleppo evacuation: Thousands in Syria hope to be moved

Children sit with their baggage during the evacuation, Aleppo, Syria, 15 December 2016 Image copyright EPA

Thousands of Syrian civilians and rebels are hoping to leave the city of Aleppo despite the suspension of an evacuation agreed with the government.

There are also expectations that some 4,000 people will be evacuated from two towns, Kefraya and Foah, loyal to the government and besieged by rebels.

At least 6,000 people have left Aleppo.

But the government stopped convoys from leaving on Friday city saying rebel fighters had fired on them. Rebels said pro-government forces opened fire.

The United Nations Security Council is expected to vote over the weekend on a French-drafted proposal to ensure the operation is co-ordinated by international observers, with humanitarian aid allowed into Aleppo and hospitals given protection.

Correspondents say thousands of cold and hungry civilians remain stranded in the rebel-held east, waiting to be moved to safety.

Media captionWounded evacuees from eastern Aleppo in Syria have been brought to Idlib, south west of the city, for medical help

On Saturday there were reports of a new deal to secure complete evacuation of the city.

US President Barack Obama on Friday accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies Russia and Iran of “atrocities”, saying the world was “united in horror” at the situation.

Why did the evacuation stop?

Confusion reigned on Friday morning when the evacuation, which was taking place along corridors out of Aleppo towards rebel-held areas (Khan al-Asal and Khan Touman), was stopped.

Image copyright AFP

Image copyright AFP

Vehicles came under fire from pro-government militias, according to activists in the area, and their convoy returned to a rebel enclave.

The opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) says it still has 6,000 fighters in the city and they will fight to the end if they have to.

Russia insisted the evacuation was complete, saying 9,500 people had been brought out.

“All peaceful civilians and a majority of militants have left the blockaded districts,” Lt-Gen Sergei Rudskoi told reporters.

However, Turkey, which supports the FSA, contradicted this, saying many people still wanted to leave.

Speaking in Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said consultations were under way with Russia and Iran, as well as “elements on the ground”.

An unnamed Syrian official overseeing the operation told AFP news agency the evacuation had been suspended “because the militants failed to respect the conditions of the agreement”.

Under a deal brokered by Russia and Turkey, the rebels were meant to ease their siege of towns in Idlib province.

Media captionSyria crisis: Hope turns to panic in Aleppo

Reports suggest the biggest rebel group in Idlib, the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham jihadists formerly known as the Nusra Front, have now agreed to allow injured people to leave the towns, Foah and Kefraya, which are home to some 20,000 people.

Syrian state media also accused rebels in Aleppo of trying to smuggle captives and heavy weapons out with them as they left Aleppo.

Who is still trapped in eastern Aleppo?

The UN’s children’s charity Unicef says sick and wounded children are among the evacuees from east Aleppo, some of whom left without their parents.

Image copyright AP

“However, hundreds of other vulnerable children, including orphans, remain trapped inside that part of the city,” it added.

“We are extremely concerned about their fate. If these children are not evacuated urgently, they could die.”

Abdulkafi al-Hamdo, a teacher who is also still in east Aleppo with his young daughter, told the BBC by phone he did not want to leave his home and city but believed he had no choice.

“The weather is so cold,” he said. “Some people have been here since nine AM yesterday and the children are so hungry they are crying. They are freezing. Most of them here are scared of a brutal end to the ceasefire.

“They are afraid that they will not be able to get out. This is the feeling of most people here.”

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