UN envoy fears Idlib will be 'the next Aleppo'
A senior United Nations official warned yesterday that thousands of people evacuated from rebel-held areas of Aleppo after a crushing government offensive could suffer the same fate in their new place of refuge outside the city.
UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura said a cessation of hostilities across Syria was vital if another battle like the bloody fight for Aleppo was to be avoided.
At least 34,000 people, both civilians and fighters, had been evacuated from east Aleppo in a week-long operation, the latest UN figures show.
"Many of them have gone to Idlib, which could be in theory the next Aleppo," de Mistura warned in Geneva.
Thousands of refugees from Aleppo were ferried to Idlib, arousing fears that the rebel-held city in northwestern Syria could be next. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has declared that the war is far from over and that his armed forces would march on other rebel-held areas.
Evacuees from Aleppo had expressed concerns about being taken to Idlib and a senior European diplomat said earlier this month that this would suit Russia, Assad's main military backer, as it would put "all their rotten eggs in one basket".
Assad said that regaining full control of Aleppo was a victory shared by his Russian and Iranian allies.
The last group of civilians and rebels holed up in a small enclave was expected to leave in the next 24 hours, with the Syrian army and its allies seizing all of the city, delivering the biggest prize of the nearly six-year war to Assad.
In comments after meeting a senior Iranian delegation, Assad said his battlefield successes were a "basic step on the road to ending terrorism in the whole of Syria and creating the right circumstances for a solution to end the war".
Russia's air force conducted hundreds of raids that pulverised rebel-held parts of Aleppo while Iranian-backed militias, led by the Lebanese group Hezbollah, poured thousands of fighters to fight rebels into the city.
More fighters were evacuated overnight from east Aleppo to opposition-held areas under an agreement between the warring sides, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.
"In one of the last stages of the evacuation, more than 4,000 fighters were evacuated in private cars, vans, and pick-ups from eastern Aleppo to western rural Aleppo," ICRC spokeswoman Krista Armstrong said.
This brought to around 34,000 the total number of people evacuated from the district over the past week in an operation hampered by heavy snow and wind, she said.