East Aleppo evacuation underway after violence, uncertainty, delays

East Aleppo evacuation underway after violence, uncertainty, delays
Evacuations from east Aleppo began on Thursday following drawn out negotiations, with aid organisations still unclear over certain terms of the agreement between the Syrian regime and rebel groups.
3 min read
15 December, 2016
It remains unclear where east Aleppo residents will be evacuated to [AFP]
Evacuations from east Aleppo began on Thursday after a proliferation of violence in the city the day before temporarily stalled the movement of local residents out of the area. 

The evacuation effort is being coordinated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) with the evacuation of injured residents initially a priority.

Speaking to The New Arab on Thursday morning, Ingy Sedky, a spokesperson for the ICRC, said that around a hundred staff members from both organisations were on the ground in east Aleppo to monitor the evacuation.

Evacuues were initially transported to the town of al-Atarib in West Aleppo, with serious cases of injury continuing onto Turkey via the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, according to reports from BBC Arabic.

But only a matter of hours before evacuations began, Sedky said that the Red Cross remained unclear as to where those being evacuated from the area were heading to.

“We do not play a role in this negotiation process,” said Sedky.

According to the Russian defence ministry a total of 20 buses, in addition to 13 ambulances, were set to exit east Aleppo via a humanitarian corridor on Thursday. Over 950 people are said to make up the convoy, according to Syrian military sources.

Despite initial delays Syrian state media claimed on Thursday that at least 4,000 rebels and their families were ready to be evacuated from the last remaining opposition-held enclaves in east Aleppo. Around 60,000 people are thought to remain in the area, according to Zouhir al-Shimale, a journalist based in the area that has contributed to The New Arab.

"All the procedures for their evacuation are ready," said a broadcast on Syrian state TV.

However, in a further complication, east Aleppo residents claimed on Thursday morning that evacuations had been delayed after pro-regime fighters opened fire on a convoy as it prepared to leave rebel-held east Aleppo, injuring three people.

"The convoy was shot at by regime forces and we have three injured, one of them from civil defence... They were brought back to besieged areas," Ahmed Sweid, head of the ambulance services in east Aleppo told Orient TV.

Sedky told The New Arab that the ICRC had no confirmation that convoys had been shot at.

In contrast to the ICRC and SARC, the UN does not have staff on the ground monitoring evacuation proceedings.

Ahmad al-Khateeb, a UNHCR spokesman, told The New Arab on Thursday morning that the organisation had been involved in providing relief for displaced residents of east Aleppo for at least “three weeks” having established centres in the Mahalid and Jibreen, regime-held areas in south-west Aleppo to provide shelter, water and food assistance to “thousands”.

“We stand ready to give out humanitarian assistance,” said Khateeb. “Every agreement is different, and is conducted in a different manner. The UN is not part of this evacuation.”

The evacuation of east Aleppo come after two weeks of advances by pro-regime troops into areas previously held by rebel groups. 

Over the past few weeks residents of east Aleppo have spoken to The New Arab with grave concern about increasingly desperate conditions in the war-torn area where hundreds have been killed amid advances by troops loyal to Assad.

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Earlier this week reports emerged that residents of east Aleppo had been summarily executed by pro-regime soldiers in the area. Both the Syrian regime and Russia have been accused of committing war crimes in the city. 

Rebel attacks on areas of regime-controlled Aleppo have also resulted in civilian deaths.

Negotiations towards an evacuation deal were made possible after talks between Russia and Turkey, which backs the Syrian opposition, lead to a ceasefire agreement in Aleppo on Tuesday. But the ceasefire has so far struggled to hold with shelling and gunfire breaking out in the city on Wednesday.