16 Dec 2016

Evacuation of rebel-held east Aleppo under way

8:18 am on 16 December 2016

Close to 1000 civilians and 26 wounded, including several children, have been evacuated from a besieged rebel-held enclave in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

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

Syrians evacuated from rebel-held neighbourhoods in Aleppo  arrive in the opposition-controlled Khan al-Aassal region, west of the city, on 15 December. Civilians will be taken to  temporary camps on the outskirts of Idlib and the wounded to field hospitals.

Evacuees from rebel-held neighbourhoods in Aleppo arrive in the opposition-controlled Khan al-Aassal region, west of the city. Photo: AFP

The first convoys were first stopping at a "handover point" in the rebel-held area of Khan al-Aassal, west of the city.

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

The rebels confirmed a fresh ceasefire had come into effect 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 ICRC expected to get 2000 people out of east Aleppo by the end of the day.

As the evacuation got under way, a rebel official said ambulances leaving the eastern part of the Syrian city had been shot at by pro-government fighters.

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.

Twenty passenger buses and 10 ambulances were being used for the operation, the chief of the Russian military's General Staff, Gen Valery Gerasimov, said. Some rebels were using their own vehicles, numbering 100, he said.

Syrian pro-government forces advance in the Jisr al-Haj neighbourhood during the ongoing military operation to retake remaining rebel-held areas in the northern embattled city of Aleppo on December 14, 2016.

Pro-government forces in the Jisr al-Haj neighbourhood. Photo: AFP

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.

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.

Figures on how many people remain in east Aleppo vary wildly.

Generally it's believed up to 50,000 people were there. This included about 4000 fighters and 10,000 family members of fighters.

However, one Turkish government minister said up to 100,000 people might have to be evacuated.

A wounded evacuee is treated by an aid worker.

A wounded evacuee is treated by an aid worker. Photo: AFP

Syrian state TV had earlier said 4000 rebels and their families would be evacuated from eastern districts on Thursday.

Russia's General Gerasimov said a 21km humanitarian corridor had been created for the evacuation of militants, through government territory and land held by "illegal armed groups".

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.

Evacuees from Aleppo arrive in the opposition-controlled Khan al-Aassal region, west of the city on 15 December.

Evacuees arrive in the opposition-controlled Khan al-Aassal region. Photo: AFP


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