First east Aleppo evacuees reach rebel-held territory
Around 1,000 people, including rebel gunmen, are set to leave east Aleppo on Thursday in accordance with the terms of an evacuation deal, according to a senior Syrian military source who spoke with AFP.
"Red Crescent vehicles carrying the wounded have arrived, and the wounded will be transferred to nearby hospitals for treatment," said Ahmad al-Dbis, who heads the unit of doctors and other volunteers coordinating proceedings.
Those evacuated have been taken to the town of al-Atareb in west Aleppo. Those with serious injuries requiring urgent medical attention are set to cross into Turkey via the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, according to BBC Arabic.
The evacuation effort is being coordinated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC).
Around a hundred staff from both organisations are present on the ground monitoring the evacuation, Ingy Sedky, a spokesperson for the ICRC told The New Arab, with the transportation of wounded a priority.
A total of 20 buses and 13 ambulances made up the initial convoy leaving east Aleppo on Thursday.
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.
|Zouhir al-Shimale has contributed to more than a dozen articles for The New Arab. Read his blog about a rare day of ceasefire here: A quiet day amid the storm of chaos|
Around 60,000 people are said to remain in east Aleppo, according to Zouhir al-Shimale, a contributor to The New Arab based in the city.
It remains unclear how long the evacuation process will take with many east Aleppo residents distrustful of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and fearful of what fate awaits them.
On Thursday morning east Aleppo residents said that the evacuation process had been stalled after pro-regime fighters opened fire on a convoy as it prepared to leave, injuring at least three people.
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” working out of centres in the Mahalid and Jibreen, regime-held areas in south-west Aleppo.
“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.
In addition to widespread death and destruction caused by bombardment from Syrian and Russian aircraft, reports have also emerged that east Aleppo residents have been summarily executed by pro-regime soldiers in the area.
Both the Syrian regime and Russia stand 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 remained fragile with shelling and gunfire breaking out in the city on Wednesday.
Agencies contributed to this report