Violence and uncertainty stalls vital east Aleppo evacuation process

Violence and uncertainty stalls vital east Aleppo evacuation process
4 min read
15 December, 2016
The Red Cross and Arab Red Crescent staff are on the ground but remain uncertain of conditions of the evacuation deal, including where those being evacuated are heading.
It remains unclear where east Aleppo residents will be evacuated to [AFP]
Evacuations from the rebel-held districts of east Aleppo are set to begin on Thursday after a proliferation of violence in the city the day before temporarily stalled the movement of local residents and gunmen out of the area.

According to the Russian defence ministry a total of 20 buses, in addition to 10 ambulances, will exit east Aleppo via a humanitarian corridor on Thursday.

However, outbreaks of violence and stalling negotiations, have raised concerns over further delays to the evacuation process.

The evacuation effort is being coordinated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC).

Speaking to The New Arab, 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.

Sedky said that Thursday’s evacuation would see injured residents of east Aleppo prioritised.

But the organisation remained unclear as to where those being evacuated from the area were heading to.

Negotiations over an evacuation deal from east Aleppo are said to have stalled on Wednesday, in part due to Iran’s – along with Russia, Assad’s main international backer – desire to see conditions for the evacuation of the two Shia towns of Nubl and Zahra, located in rebel-held areas of north Aleppo province, included in any agreement.

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Reports have suggested that those trapped in east Aleppo would be moved to areas of rebel-held territory in either northern Aleppo province, or Idlib province in north west Syria.

However, Sedky said that negotiations remained ongoing between regime and rebel authorities over specifics of the evacuation deal.

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

Despite such apparent stalling 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.

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

However, in a further complication, reports emerged 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.”
Negotiations for 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.

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.