Evacuation in Aleppo resumes after one day
AFP photoBuses loaded with Syrian civilians have begun leaving the last rebel-held enclave of Aleppo again on Dec. 21, after being stalled for a day, a U.N. official and Syrian state TV said. A convoy of 60 buses carrying people had been held up in freezing temperatures on Dec. 21 amid a last-minute hitch.
“Buses are now moving again from east Aleppo. We hope that this continues so that people can be safely evacuated,” the U.N. official in Syria told Reuters by email at 5 p.m. (2 p.m. GMT).
Syrian TV said that evacuations had resumed from Aleppo and that five buses had arrived at the Ramouseh crossing between the rebel and government sides of the city, after rebels handed over pro-government fighters they took prisoner during previous rounds of fighting.
An Associated Press TV crew said four buses had arrived at the city’s rebel-held western countryside, marking the first successful evacuation in over 24 hours.
Earlier in the day Syrian rebels said they had reached an agreement with the government in Damascus to complete their withdrawal from Aleppo.
“An agreement has been reached to resume the evacuation of Aleppo,” announced Ahmad Qara Ali, spokesman for the Ahrar al-Sham faction. He said the evacuations would begin “shortly.”
The Syrian opposition agreed to surrender their last foothold in the city, last week, marking the most significant victory for President Bashar al-Assad since an uprising against his family’s four-decade rule swept the country in 2011.
Turkey said as of Dec. 20, a total of 37,500 people were evacuated from Aleppo, while the International Committee of the Red Cross gave the toll at around 20,000.
Some 3,000 rebel fighters and civilians stood outside in harsh wintry conditions overnight, waiting to board what may be the last convoy out of the east. Activists circulated photos on social media of families huddled around fires amid the sleet and snow. By midday, temperatures in the city hovered around freezing.
The evacuations came one day after the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran met in Moscow to discuss Syria. They signed a declaration where they vowed for joint action.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry “welcomes any effort to try to get a cease-fire in Syria that can actually have meaningful results,” his spokesman said, adding that Kerry spoke by telephone with the foreign ministers of Russia and Turkey after the meeting in Moscow.
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters the U.S. “welcomes any effort to try to get a cease-fire in Syria that can actually have meaningful results, particularly for those people that remain in Aleppo, as well as the resumption of political talks.”
Kirby said Kerry also “stressed the need to try to get those political talks back on track as soon as people,” adding that it was “too soon to know” if the Moscow declaration would have any impact.
“Given that the meeting just broke up today and given the fact that we have seen repeated promises to appropriately influence the Assad regime ... fail, I think we really need to wait and ascertain the results over the next coming days,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov informed Kerry in a telephone call about the results of talks in Moscow on Dec. 20 on the Syria crisis.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Dec. 20 that he was looking into bringing wounded civilians from the shattered Syrian city of Aleppo to the Jewish state for treatment.
“I’ve asked the Foreign Ministry to seek ways to expand our medical assistance to the civilian casualties of the Syrian tragedy, specifically in Aleppo,” he said at a year-end reception for foreign media.
“We’re prepared to take in wounded women and children, and also men if they’re not combatants... bring them into Israel, take care of them in our hospitals as we’ve done with thousands of Syrian civilians,” he said.