Saturday 19 August 2017

Final phase of evacuations from rebel-held eastern Aleppo underway

A general view shows parked busses at insurgent-held al-Rashideen, Syria December 21, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
A general view shows parked busses at insurgent-held al-Rashideen, Syria December 21, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
Evacuees from a rebel-held area of Aleppo arrive at insurgent-held al-Rashideen, Syria December 21, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
A member of forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stands in front of Aleppo's historic citadel, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki/File Photo
A general view shows damage in al-Sheebani school's courtyard, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 17, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
People walk inside Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria March 12, 2009. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
People attend a music concert in al-Sheebani school's courtyard, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria June 6, 2009. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

Philip Issa

The final phase of evacuations from former rebel strongholds in eastern Aleppo are under way.

Some families are huddling around fires amid sleet and snow as they prepare for their departure from the war-torn city.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said all patients and those needing medical care had been moved out of the last hospital in the east on Wednesday evening.

Once the evacuations are completed, the government can assume full control of Aleppo, more than four years after opposition fighters seized large areas of what was once Syria's largest city.

Syrian opposition fighters agreed last week to surrender their last foothold in the city, marking the most significant victory for President Bashar Assad since an uprising against his family's four-decade rule swept the country in 2011.

The deal followed a punishing offensive by government troops and military allies Russia and Iran that drove out tens of thousands of civilians from rebel-held areas of the city.

Children walk together as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Children walk together as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Syrian army soldier places a Syrian national flag during a battle with rebel fighters at the Ramouseh front line, east of Aleppo, Syria, Monday, Dec. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen marching walk inside the destroyed Grand Umayyad mosque in the old city of Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. (SANA via AP)
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen marching walk inside the destroyed Grand Umayyad mosque in the old city of Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. (SANA via AP)
A Syrian man carries his sister who was wounded after a government airstrike hit the neighborhood of Ansari, in Aleppo, Syria, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Abdullah al-Yassin, File)
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen marching walk inside the destroyed Grand Umayyad mosque in the old city of Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. (SANA via AP)
Smoke rises following a Syrian government air strike on rebel positions, in eastern Aleppo, Syria, Monday, Dec. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)
In this image from video, people march toward the Russian consulate in Istanbul Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016 to protest against Russia's involvement in the Syrian government's push to retake rebel-held areas of the city of Aleppo. (DHA via AP)
A general view shows the damage inside the Umayyad mosque, in the government-controlled area of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Boys stand amid the damage in the government-held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad walk inside Aleppo's historic citadel, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen marching walk inside the destroyed Grand Umayyad mosque in the old city of Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. (SANA via AP)
Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stand inside the Umayyad mosque, in the government-controlled area of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen marching walk inside the destroyed Grand Umayyad mosque in the old city of Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. (SANA via AP)
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen marching walk inside the destroyed Grand Umayyad mosque in the old city of Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. (SANA via AP)
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen marching walk inside the destroyed Grand Umayyad mosque in the old city of Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. (SANA via AP)
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen marching walk inside the destroyed Grand Umayyad mosque in the old city of Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. (SANA via AP)
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen marching walk inside the destroyed Grand Umayyad mosque in the old city of Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. (SANA via AP)

Thousands of fighters and civilians - with estimates ranging between 18,000 and 25,000 - have been bussed out of eastern Aleppo since the evacuations began last week.

The opposition's British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday that some 3,000 fighters and civilians were still awaiting evacuation from the city's last opposition-held neighbourhoods, where some 60 buses were to transport them out.

A member of forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stands in front of Aleppo's historic citadel, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki/File Photo
A member of forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stands in front of Aleppo's historic citadel, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki/File Photo

A convoy of buses and cars later drove out of the city under heavy snow.

By Wednesday evening, 25 buses from eastern Aleppo had reached the government-held western outskirts of the city, said opposition activist Ahmad Primo.

Syrians leave a rebel-held area of Aleppo towards the government-held side during an operation by Syrian government forces to retake the embattled city (Photo: AFP)
Syrians leave a rebel-held area of Aleppo towards the government-held side during an operation by Syrian government forces to retake the embattled city (Photo: AFP)
Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad gesture as they ride on a pick-up truck in the government held Sheikh Saeed district of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 12, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Syrian residents, fleeing violence in the restive Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood, arrive in Aleppo's Fardos neighbourhood after regime troops retook the area from rebel fighters.
Syrians leave a rebel-held area of Aleppo towards the government-held side on December 13, 2016 during an operation by Syrian government forces to retake the embattled city. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Syrians leave a rebel-held area of Aleppo towards the government-held side on December 13, 2016 during an operation by Syrian government forces to retake the embattled city. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
A member of the Syrian pro-government forces stands next to a tank in the old city of Aleppo on December 13, 2016, after they recaptured the area. After weeks of heavy fighting, regime forces were poised to take full control of Aleppo, dealing the biggest blow to Syria's rebellion in more than five years of civil war. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Syrian pro-government forces walk in Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood after they captured the area in the eastern part of the war torn city on December 13, 2016. After weeks of heavy fighting, regime forces were poised to take full control of Aleppo, dealing the biggest blow to Syria's rebellion in more than five years of civil war. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
A general view shows Syrian pro-government forces walking in the ancient Umayyad mosque in the old city of Aleppo on December 13, 2016, after they captured the area. After weeks of heavy fighting, regime forces were poised to take full control of Aleppo, dealing the biggest blow to Syria's rebellion in more than five years of civil war. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
A member of the Syrian pro-government forces walks in eastern Aleppo's al-Kalasseh neighbourhood on December 13, 2016 (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian opposition fighters fire towards positions held by Islamic State (IS) group jihadists in al-Bab on the northeastern outskirts of the northern embattled city of Aleppo on December 13, 2016. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
A general view shows Aleppo's citadel on December 13, 2016, after government forces captured the area. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
A Syrian child cooks in the street in a rebel-held area of Aleppo, on December 13, 2016, during an operation by Syrian government forces to retake the embattled city. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
People carry their belongings as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016. Photo: Reuters
Children walk together as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016. Photo: Reuters
A man pushes a cart with belongings as he flees deeper with another man into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016. Photo: Reuters
People carry their belongings as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016. The Arabic words read, "No to monopolizing commodities and raising prices under the siege". Photo: Reuters
People flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016. Photo: Reuters
Damaged buildings are seen in the government-held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016. Photo: Reuters
A general view shows the damage in the government-held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016. Photo: Reuters
Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen marching through the streets of east Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, December 13, 2016. Photo: SANA via AP
A graveyard in east Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, December 13, 2016. Photo: SANA via AP
Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad walk inside Aleppo's historic citadel, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016. Photo: Reuters
Boys stand amid the damage in the government-held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016. Photo: Reuters
A general view shows the damage inside the Umayyad mosque, in the government-controlled area of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016. Photo: Reuters

The bus movements came after evacuations had been suspended for 24 hours. Syrian state TV said they had resumed after rebels handed over prisoners taken in previous rounds of fighting.

As part of a wider deal, rebels are supposed to allow evacuations of the sick and wounded from two rebel-besieged villages, Foua and Kfarya. The ICRC said about 750 people have already been bussed out of the villages, leaving hundreds more to be evacuated.

Meanwhile, freezing temperatures worsened already dire conditions in eastern Aleppo, where months of heaving bombardments have caused large-scale devastation.

Activists circulated photos on social media of families huddled around fires amid the sleet and snow.

People attend a music concert in al-Sheebani school's courtyard, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria June 6, 2009. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
People attend a music concert in al-Sheebani school's courtyard, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria June 6, 2009. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

The international group Save The Children said the cold is further hampering aid efforts on the ground, amid chronic shortages of food, medicine and blankets.

A seven-year-old Syrian girl who was evacuated on Monday and whose mother ran a Twitter account in her name met on Wednesday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Turkish capital, Ankara.

Bana Alabed's mother, Fatemah, set up and began operating the account in September, tweeting on her daughter's behalf. The account has garnered some 354,000 followers.

The child's social media account has included tweets to people such as Michelle Obama and Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, asking them for help.

Elsewhere in northern Syria, fighting between the Islamic State group on one side, and Turkish and Syrian opposition forces on the other, killed four Turkish soldiers, according to Turkey's state Anadolu news agency.

The report cited unnamed military sources as saying that 11 Turkish soldiers were also wounded in the fighting for the IS-held town of al-Bab, including one who was in critical condition. The agency reported intense clashes near a hospital in the town, saying the militants were using it as a shelter and to store arms and ammunition.

Turkey sent ground troops into northern Syria in August to support Syrian opposition forces in clearing a border area of Islamic State group militants and to curb Kurdish territorial expansion.

At the United Nations, the UN Security Council approved the delivery of humanitarian aid across borders and conflict lines in Syria for another year, in a resolution aimed at reaching thousands in need in rebel-held areas without government approval.

The resolution, adopted unanimously, expresses grave distress at "the continued deterioration of the devastating humanitarian situation in Syria", where more than 13.5 million people require urgent assistance.

It cited the alarming situation in besieged areas where hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped.

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