Syria: Aleppo evacuation resumed again on Monday, 5000 civilians left

Syria: Aleppo evacuation resumed again on Monday, 5000 civilians left

The evacuation of thousands of civilians from eastern Aleppo under the Russian-Turkish ceasefire agreement was resumed again since Sunday night, after being interrupted many times by both Iranian and armed opposition interventions.

After months of crippling siege, starvation policy, daily bombardment, fierce clashes and bloody massacres the Assad regime and its allies were able to oblige the rebels in Aleppo to surrender and make an agreement to leave the area they have been holding since 2012 after losing more than 90% of it.

The ceasefire agreement was a result of talks between Russia and Turkey.

As part of an agreement between Turkey and Russia, tens of thousands of rebels and civilians were supposed to be evacuated from eastern Aleppo to rebel-held Idlib, allowing the Assad regime to take full control of the city after years of fighting.

By taking full control of Aleppo, Assad has proved the power of his military coalition, aided by Russia’s air force and an array of Shi’ite militias backed by Iran after his rule was close to ending after major losses in 2015.

Previous failed deals

On Wednesday morning, buses and ambulances were brought to evacuate rebel fighters and their families – only to be turned away shortly afterward as the ceasefire fell apart and the bombardment was resumed again.

However, the bombardment stopped at night and the agreement was resumed to evacuate the rebels and civilians on Thursday.

The civilians evacuation was continued until Friday morning when the convoy was obstructed by Iranian-backed militias again, who refused the agreement and sought to force their conditions on its progress.

Iran was insisting people be allowed to leave two besieged Shi’ite villages before letting the Aleppo evacuation happen.

Four people who were part of a convoy evacuating the besieged districts of east Aleppo were killed by Syrian government forces.

Numerous rebels and east Aleppo residents shared reports and videos of people fleeing the sound of shooting, being detained and returning home badly beaten and robbed of their possessions near a checkpoint as they tried to leave the city on Friday.

The civilians then returned to Aleppo, where the reports say that up to 50,000 people remained stranded there ahead of the evacuation, including about 4,000 fighters and about 10,000 family members of fighters.

A new deal was reached on Saturday to allow the civilian evacuation on Sunday, in return for evacuation of 4,000 people in the Shia-majority towns of Fua and Kefraya which are besieged by the rebels.

However, the evacuation efforts collapsed again after armed men burned five buses that were supposed to be used for the evacuation near Idlib on Sunday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the evacuation of the villages near Idlib had been postponed as a result of the incident, as well as the evacuation from Aleppo.

Opposition politicians and activists expressed their rage after what they described as “a reckless and stupid move as every move that Fatah al-Sham does,” reflecting a wide refusal for the group actions that have been harming the Syrian revolution and causing major setbacks for the rebels’ forces.

Evacuation resumed

The evacuation was resumed on Sunday night, with about 350 people able to leave a rebel-held pocket of the city.

“Five buses carrying the evacuees arrived from besieged parts of east Aleppo,” said Ahmad al-Dbis, who heads a team of doctors and volunteers coordinating evacuations to rebel-held Khan al-Assal, from where they can travel on to other parts of Aleppo and Idlib provinces.

“They were in a terrible state,” he said.

“They hadn’t eaten, they had nothing to drink, the children had caught colds, they were not even able to go to the toilet.”.

This came after 500 people were evacuated from the Shiite villages on Monday, allowing the evacuations from east Aleppo to resume. The observatory 10 buses had left the majority Shia towns of Foua and Kefraya carrying evacuees through rebel-held territory towards Aleppo

The operation was continued on Monday on a wider scale, as thousands of civilians have been evacuated from besieged east Aleppo and thousands more are preparing to leave.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, 5,000 civilians left the besieged districts in 75 buses on Monday.

Another 25 buses were ready to take more people to the rebel-held town of Rashideen in countryside to the west of the city.

Nearly 50 children who were trapped in an orphanage in east Aleppo were evacuated, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said.

“This morning, all 47 children trapped in an orphanage in east Aleppo were evacuated to safety, with some in critical condition from injuries and dehydration,” Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF regional director, said in a statement.


Waiting in dire conditions

“These were the worst days we endured,” said Abu Jaafar, a doctor who left the city and arrived in Rashideen on Monday. “This week was terrible, people were in the streets, and most of the houses they lived in had been destroyed.

“When people were ready to be evacuated they stood in their tens of thousands in a square in the harsh cold, many of them children and women. There was nothing of the basics of life – little food, warmth and no shelter. All you heard was the screams and tears of children.”

“Conditions in eastern Aleppo remain extremely dire,” said a journalist.

“In the evenings it can go to -5C. They have access to very little food, fuel, water and medical supplies. The situation on the ground remains grim as people wait.”

Ismail al-Abdullah, a civilian trapped in east Aleppo, said: “Two injured people waiting for the Red Crescent died while they were waiting to be evacuated, while they were waiting to be treated … we told them many times, ‘You will be evacuated, wait for the ambulances’, but that didn’t happen and they died.”

With others, Abdullah tried to visit the evacuation point on Sunday. “When we saw the number of people, we thought they would be unable to evacuate this number of people so we turned around,” he said.

“We are under siege … we are just surviving now. We are just staying alive.”

The Norwegian Refugee Council is assisting people who have fled eastern Aleppo, many of whom slept outdoors as temperatures plunged below zero. The council is hosting them in camps to the north of the city.

“Our major concern at this point is — not only in Aleppo but across the country, where there are people being displaced by this fighting — is that they’re living in the open, they’re exposed to the elements,” Thomas White, the organization’s Syria Response Director, told CNN’s Cyril Vanier. “And it’s cold right now, and this winter in northern Syria will be a killer.”

But for many, being taken to Idlib is moving from one war zone to another. Idlib is widely expected to be the regime’s next target, and the evacuations are effectively moving rebels to one containable zone.

Capturing eastern Aleppo is the biggest victory for Assad regime since the start of the revolution against him in 2011, restoring his control over the whole city apart from a Kurdish-held area that has not fought against him.

It is a victory for his allies, Russia and Iran, which have outmaneuvered the West and Assad’s regional enemies through direct military intervention.

For Assad regime, taking back Aleppo will help its forces focus on ending the remaining rebels-held areas. These areas include the rebels’ stronghold in Idlib in addition to isolated areas in rural Damascus, Homs, and Hama.

These areas have been under daily bombardment and crippling siege for years. The Old city of Homs and parts of rural Damascus has already been lost to Assad regime, and the remaining areas are expected to follow.

As a conclusion, defeating the rebels and retrieving Aleppo means destroying the last major resistance stronghold of the Syrian rebels and will lead eventually to the victory of Assad regime and ending the Syrian revolution.

The fate of rebel-held Aleppo spells the abject failure of the west’s contradictory and piecemeal policies. It is a humiliation for the UN. Its fall will be an unequivocal victory for Russian strategy, and the shameful and humiliating defeat for all those who said they stand with the civilians and left them to face annihilation including US, Turkey and all Arab states.