Monday 22 January 2018

Twitter girl Bana (7) among Aleppo families rescued

Fatemah Alabed hugs her seven-year-old daughter Bana after they reached the Aleppo countryside following their evacuation from the city. Photo: Qasioun News Agency via AP
Fatemah Alabed hugs her seven-year-old daughter Bana after they reached the Aleppo countryside following their evacuation from the city. Photo: Qasioun News Agency via AP

Raf Sanchez Beirut

A seven-year-old girl who used Twitter to show the world the horrors of Aleppo, plus dozens of orphans were among the thousands of people evacuated yesterday as humanitarian efforts reached "full steam ahead" after days of delays.

The UN Security Council also reached a rare unanimous decision to send UN observers into Aleppo to monitor the evacuation and prevent a Srebrenica-style massacre of civilians by pro-regime forces.

A young child evacuated from Aleppo at a refugee camp in Rashidin, near Idlib. Image: AP Photo
A young child evacuated from Aleppo at a refugee camp in Rashidin, near Idlib. Image: AP Photo

Foreign and defence ministers from Turkey, Russia and Iran - three of the biggest external players in the Syrian war - will meet today in Moscow for unprecedented three-way talks on Syria's future.

Around 4,500 people were evacuated from the last remaining rebel area in east Aleppo yesterday, a major upsurge after the evacuations stalled over the weekend and rebel fighters torched a convoy of government buses.

There were still thought to be around 10,000 people in east Aleppo but Jan Egeland, the UN's humanitarian adviser on Syria, said the evacuation effort was "now in full swing". He added: "We must not fail."

There were several reports of babies and elderly people freezing to death as they waited outside for a spot on one of the buses.

Evacuations from two loyalist villages besieged by the rebels also continued as part of the deal.

Among those able to reach the relative safety of the western countryside was Bana al-Abed, a young girl who tweeted about life under siege in Aleppo with help from her mother Fatemah.

JK Rowling sent Bana 'Harry Potter' eBooks after her mother tweeted the author and last week the mother and daughter recorded a video for Michelle Obama, pleading with the US First Lady to help them.

The whole family was able to reach Idlib province yesterday where little Bana was greeted as a celebrity by journalists and aid workers who posed for selfies with her.

"I have hope that one day I will go back to Aleppo," she said after the evacuation. "We shall overcome some day."

The UN also said that 47 children who had been trapped in an Aleppo orphanage had also made it out of the city but that some were in "critical condition from injuries and dehydration".

"The evacuation of these orphans, along with thousands of other children from east Aleppo in the past days is a glimmer of hope amid a grim reality for the children of Syria," said Geert Cappelaere, Unicef's regional director.

The children featured in a heartbreaking video last week, where 10-year-old Yasmin Qanouz, whose parents were both killed in air-strikes, begged the world to help her and her fellow orphans.

While the children have escaped the immediate danger of the fighting in Aleppo, they are still far from safe.

Russia and the Syrian regime regularly bomb the countryside and the evacuees, who fled the city with few clothes and belongings, must now find shelter from the winter cold.

Russia did not veto a UN Security Council resolution calling for unarmed observers to go to Aleppo to oversee the evacuation, the first time in months that the UN body has been able to agree on anything on Syria.

Matthew Rycroft, the UK ambassador, said he "very much hoped" the Russian decision not to veto signalled a shift by Moscow towards engaging with other countries over Syria.

The resolution calls the UN to report within five days on whether the Syrian regime was actually allowing the observers into the city.

UN observers pulled out in 2012 as fighting intensified.

The UN Security Council has approved the deployment of UN monitors to Aleppo as the evacuation of fighters and civilians from the last remaining opposition stronghold in the northern city resumed after days of delays.

France said the monitors were needed to prevent "mass atrocities" from being committed by Syrian government forces. (© Daily Telegraph London)

Irish Independent

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