Evacuation of 5,000 militants with families from E. Aleppo under way – Russian General Staff
The pullout of more than 5,000 militants and their families through a humanitarian corridor has started in eastern Aleppo, the Russian General Staff said. Wounded rebels are evacuated by the Russian Reconciliation Center with International Red Cross involvement.
The Russian Foreign Ministry reported later in the day that over 4,000 people were already evacuated on Thursday.
The operation to evacuate the militants and their families from eastern Aleppo was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov told foreign military attachés on Thursday.
“To allow the militants leave the city, a 21km humanitarian corridor has been set up. Of those, 6km lie across Aleppo's territories controlled by government troops and the other 15km to the west of the city go through militant-held areas," he said.
Twenty passenger busses and 10 ambulances have been provided to evacuate the militants, while around 100 cars are being used by the militants themselves, he added.
The first column carrying militants departed from Aleppo at about 12:30 GMT and safely arrived at its destination in the Er-Rashidin neighborhood sometime later, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. There the evacuees changed vehicles and went on towards Idlib governorate.
The motorcade was being accompanied by humanitarian workers and employees of the Reconciliation Center. Ambulances were carrying injured people who could not be safely transported by other means.
Volunteers from the ICRC and other humanitarian organizations are helping with transporting injured people as part of the larger evacuation.
“We expect that during the day there will be around 250 wounded and critically wounded to be evacuated. The whole operation will take some time because it will require multiple rotations, but the operation is now going as planned,” spokesperson for the ICRC in Syria, Ingy Sedky, told RT earlier.
She added that so far there were no signs that despite some media reports to the contrary the planned evacuation would be thwarted by an attack by any party.
“They are safe,” she said, referring to the evacuees and humanitarian workers involved in the evacuation. “The operation is going well so far and people are starting to gather to get on the buses and ambulances in order to be evacuated.”
UPDATE: As of Thursday evening, the third column of buses and ambulances carrying militants and their families has left for the Er-Rashidin neighborhood, the Russian center for reconciliation of opposing parties reported. All the buses and accompanying vehicles will return to Aleppo upon completing the operation.
Mona Kurdy from the sister organization Syrian Arab Red Crescent told RT that the volunteers “are in the field, they are doing their jobs and everybody hopes that they can do exactly what they have to do.”
The Syrian government will ensure the security of all members of militant groups who are willing to leave eastern Aleppo, the Russian Reconciliation Center's statement said earlier.
The evacuation operation has been monitored by web cameras that the Russian Defense Ministry has installed along the corridors, as well as surveillance drones.
On Wednesday morning, the Syrian army was attacked in eastern Aleppo when buses sent to evacuate the militants entered the area, violating a previously reached ceasefire agreement, the Russian Reconciliation Center said, adding that the army had repelled the attackers.
Meanwhile, Russian military engineers are working on demining the areas which were previously under the control of the insurgents. So far they have cleared 307 buildings and 30km of roads, Gen. Lt. Viktor Poznikhir, deputy chief of operations of the General Staff, reported.
“They have defused 2,742 explosive objects while sweeping an area of 107 hetares,” he said, adding that work is underway on restoring basic services like water supply in the areas deemed safe for civilians. He said some 5,000 civilians have been able to return to their homes.
On Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry said that up to 100,000 people, including 40,000 children, have been evacuated from eastern Aleppo.