Civilians and wounded bussed out of Aleppo
An operation to evacuate thousands of civilians and fighters from the last rebel bastion in Aleppo got under way yesterday, part of a ceasefire deal that promises to end years of fighting for the city and marks a major victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said the evacuation of around 200 wounded people had started.
A convoy of 10 ambulances and at least 17 green buses with nearly 1,000 people on board drove from the Ramousah district next to the rebel-held area of Aleppo, which was besieged for months by Syrian government forces, a Reuters reporter on the scene said.
Rebel officials have said that civilians who wish to leave will also be able to do so as part of the ceasefire and evacuation deal.
Women howled in celebration as the buses passed through a government-held area, and some waved the Syrian flag.
Earlier, ambulances trying to evacuate people came under fire from fighters loyal to the Syrian government, who killed one person and injured three others, a rescue service spokesman said.
"[Pro-government fighters] fired at us and at ambulance vehicles and those people opening up the road," the spokesman told Reuters. A Reuters witness in nearby government-held territory heard a burst of gunfire that lasted several minutes.
"Thousands of people are in need of evacuation, but the first and most urgent thing is wounded, sick and children, including orphans," said Jan Egeland, the UN humanitarian adviser for Syria.
Columns of black smoke could be seen rising from the rebel-held area, where residents hoping to depart were burning personal belongings they did not want to leave for government forces to loot.
"Outside every building you see a small fire, papers, women's clothes," one resident told Reuters.
Russian soldiers were preparing to lead rebels out of Aleppo, the defence ministry in Moscow said. Syria had guaranteed the safety of rebels and their families, who would be taken toward Idlib, a city in northwestern Syria.
Russia would use drones to monitor how rebels and their families were transported along a humanitarian corridor, the ministry said.
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A truce brokered by Russia, Mr Assad's most powerful ally, and opposition backer Turkey on Tuesday broke down following renewed fighting on Wednesday and the evacuation did not take place then as planned.
An official from the Jabha Shamiya rebel group said a new truce came into effect at 2.30am (0.30 GMT) yesterday.
Shortly before the new deal was announced, clashes raged in Aleppo. Government forces made a new advance in Sukkari - one of a handful of districts still held by rebels - and brought half of the neighbourhood under their control, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.
The Russian defence ministry said - before the report of the government forces' advance in Sukkari - that the rebels controlled an enclave of only 2.5 square km.
France's ambassador to the United Nations said international observers should monitor the safe evacuation of civilians and fighters from the war-torn city.
Francois Delattre told reporters yesterday that his country was working with Germany to call for a UN Security Council briefing on the matter.
"We consider, more than ever in these very dark days in Aleppo, that it's critically important to have international observers under the surveillance of the UN," he added.
Meanwhile residents of Sarajevo, many of whom survived the brutal 44-month siege of the city in the 1990s, yesterday took to the streets to stand in solidarity with the people of Aleppo.
Hundreds attended a rally in the Bosnian capital that recalled their own suffering at the hands of ethnic Serb forces to voice their outrage at the suffering of Syrians in Aleppo.
"I am here today to raise my voice against all war crimes, equally those that were committed here 20 years ago and those that are now being committed in Syria," said Smirna Kulenovic, a Bosnian student who was born in a hospital that was targeted by mortar fire 22 years ago.