Buses attacked on way to militant-held Shiite villages after evacuation deal – Syrian state media
UPDATE: Some 350 people left eastern Aleppo in five buses on Sunday, AFP reported citing Ahmad al-Dbis, a medical official coordinating evacuation on the ground in the city.
The deal was reached earlier on Sunday, according to Reuters, citing al-Ikhbariya TV news. It will see the remaining militants and their families evacuated from east Aleppo in return for the evacuation of people in militant-held villages in Idlib province, al-Foua and Kafraya.
Syrian state television has reported that five buses were attacked and burned by “armed terrorists” while en route to al-Foua and Kafraya.
"Five buses carrying the evacuees arrived from besieged parts of eastern Aleppo," he said, adding that the evacuees were “in a terrible state” and were suffering from acute thirst and hunger.
The buses’ safe departure from Aleppo was confirmed by Robert Mardini, regional director of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
“Finally, five buses & one ambulance escorted by SARC_Aleppo [Syrian Arab Red Crescent & @ICRC_sy [Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Syria] just left dark & cold E Aleppo. Hopeful operation will proceed smoothly,” he wrote on Twitter.
The buses then proceeded to the rebel-held Aleppo suburb of Khan al-Assal, from where the militants and their families can depart to other rebel-held regions of Syria, mainly Idlib province.
Photos emerged on Twitter that the operation concluded without incident.
Rebel factions in Aleppo laid blame for the assault on the buses on Al-Nusra Front, now rebranded as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, Al Arabiya reported, adding that they condemned the attack.
According to al-Ikhbariya TV news, about 1,200 civilians will initially be evacuated from east Aleppo and a similar number from the two villages of al-Foua and Kafraya in Idlib province.
The evacuation of Aleppo militants and their families from the last rebel-held part of the city has begun, Syrian state television has reported, as cited by Reuters.
Citing a rebel representative, AFP also reported that under the new agreement the evacuations will take place in two phases.
First buses have entered Fuah-Kafraya pic.twitter.com/VsOjhgv8mY— Hassan Ridha (@sayed_ridha) December 18, 2016
“In a first step, half of the people besieged in Aleppo will leave, in parallel with the evacuation of 1,250 people from al-Foua,” the AFP source said on condition of anonymity.
“In a second step, 1,250 people from Kafraya will leave in parallel with the evacuation of the remaining people in Aleppo,” the rebel representative said.
Another 1,500 people will later leave al-Foua and Kafraya along with the same number from Zabadani and Madaya, two rebel towns in Damascus province blockaded by the Syrian army.
SOHR: Buses arrived at Fuah-Kafraya outskirts but have not entered yet pic.twitter.com/6sewhx9gco— Hassan Ridha (@sayed_ridha) December 18, 2016
Syrian state news agency SANA reported earlier that evacuation buses had entered the last militant-held district of eastern Aleppo, Ramousah, under the supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Arab Red Cross. State television showed live footage of buses and a van bearing a Syrian Arab Red Crescent flag parked next to a highway intersection in Ramousah. Several large white cars marked with Red Crescent and Red Cross symbols also appeared in the footage.
The buses are to evacuate both rebels and civilians remaining in the neighborhood.
On Friday, a day after thousands of people had begun leaving the remaining rebel-held neighborhoods, the Syrian government suspended evacuations after pro-government militias demanded that wounded people should also be released from al-Foua and Kafraya, two Shiite villages in nearby Idlib province under siege by rebels. The main obstacle to resuming the evacuation had been a disagreement over the number of people to be moved out of the Shiite villages.
Meanwhile, later on Sunday, the United Nations Security Council is set to vote on a French-drafted resolution aimed at ensuring that UN officials can monitor the evacuations from Aleppo and the safety of the remaining civilians. Reuters reported that those evacuated on Thursday and Friday morning had been taken to rebel-held districts in the countryside west of Aleppo.
A draft of the resolution “emphasizes that the evacuations of civilians must be voluntary and to final destinations of their choice, and protection must be provided to all civilians who choose or who have been forced to be evacuated and those who opt to remain in their homes.”
It was not immediately clear how Russia will vote.
“If it is a sensible initiative and we see it on paper, why not entertain this initiative?” Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said on Friday.
Michael Raddie, co-editor at BSNEWS.info, has called the attempts of western authorities to downplay the significance of Aleppo's liberation “insanity.”
“The western governments that have been hell-bent on regime change in Syria have got all their cards on the table and they have to double down and say that this is the fall of Aleppo. That’s insanity,” Raddie told RT.
“When we see people escaping captivity and running towards safety and medical assistance provided by the Syrian government and even the Russian government, this is safety and this is security. They know this,” he added.