Thousands of people were evacuated on Thursday from the last rebel bastion in Aleppo, the first to leave under a ceasefire deal that would end years of fighting for the city and mark a major victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
A first convoy of ambulances and buses with nearly 1,000 people aboard drove out of the devastated rebel-held area of Aleppo, which was besieged and bombarded for months by Syrian government forces, a Reuters reporter on the scene said.
Syrian state television reported later that two further convoys of 15 buses each had also left east Aleppo. The second had reached the rebel-held area of al-Rashideen, an insurgent said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said late on Thursday that some 3,000 civilians and more than 40 wounded people, including children, had already been evacuated.
Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. special envoy for Syria, said about 50,000 people remained in rebel-held Aleppo, of whom about 10,000 would be evacuated to nearby Idlib province and the rest would move to government-held city districts.
Behind those fleeing was a wasteland of flattened buildings, concrete rubble and bullet-pocked walls, where tens of thousands had lived until recent days under intense bombardment even after medical and rescue services had collapsed.
The once-flourishing economic center with its renowned ancient sites has been pulverized during the war that has killed more than 300,000 people, created the world’s worst refugee crisis and allowed for the rise of Islamic State. The United States was forced to watch from the sidelines as the Syrian government and its allies, including Russia, mounted an assault to pin down the rebels in an ever-diminishing pocket of territory, culminating in this week’s ceasefire.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that the Syrian government was carrying out “nothing short of a massacre” in Aleppo. U.N. aid chief Stephen O’Brien will brief the Security Council on Friday on the Aleppo evacuation.
The Syrian White Helmets civil defense group and other rights organizations accused Russia of committing or being complicit in war crimes in Syria, saying Russian air strikes in the Aleppo region had killed 1,207 civilians, including 380 children.
In a letter submitted to the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria and seen by Reuters on Thursday, the groups listed 304 alleged attacks carried out in the Aleppo area primarily between July and December and said there was a “high likelihood” of Russia responsibility.
The Russian U.N. mission was not immediately available to comment on the allegations. Russia has said it stopped air strikes in Aleppo in mid-October.
In Aleppo’s rebel-held area, columns of black smoke could be seen as residents hoping to depart burned personal belongings they do not want to leave for government forces to loot.
A senior Russian general, Viktor Poznikhir, said the Syrian army had almost finished its operations in Aleppo.
more at: Reuters.com