December 14, 2016 3:22:11 am
Civilians and rebel fighters were to start evacuating from Syria’s Aleppo “within hours” under a deal that would end years of opposition resistance in the city. Rebel officials, Russia and Turkey confirmed the agreement yesterday which, if implemented, would mark a major victory for President Bashar al-Assad over opposition forces who rose up against him in 2011.
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Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin said the Syrian military had stopped its operations in Aleppo under the agreement, adding: “The fighting around eastern Aleppo is over.”
Green government buses gathered at the edges of the divided Salaheddin district late yesterday, with some entering briefly but returning empty and parking on the outskirts again, an AFP correspondent said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said the evacuations were now expected to begin around 0830 IST.
The agreement came amid mounting global outrage over reports of atrocities, including dozens of summary executions, as forces loyal to Assad closed in on the last pocket of rebel territory in Aleppo.
Officials from several rebel groups said there was a deal to allow civilians and fighters to leave Aleppo for opposition-held territory to the west of the city.
“An agreement has been reached,” said Yasser al-Youssef from the political office of the key Nureddin al-Zinki rebel group, adding that the deal had been “sponsored” by Russia and Turkey.
“The first stage will be the evacuation of civilians and wounded, within hours, and afterwards fighters will leave with their light weapons.”
As the UN Security Council met in emergency session to discuss Aleppo, Churkin said: “There is indeed an arrangement achieved on the ground that the fighters are going to leave the city.”
Turkey said that under the agreement civilians would first evacuate, followed by a withdrawal of rebel groups.
“While we are pleased with today’s step taken to secure a ceasefire, at the same time we must always be aware of the fragile situation in front of us and it is wise to be cautious,” said foreign ministry spokesman Huseyin Muftuoglu.
US ambassador Samantha Power told the Security Council Washington wanted international observers in Aleppo to oversee the evacuation.
She raised concern for “people who wish to leave but who, justifiably, fear that if they try they will be shot in the street or carted off to one of Assad’s gulags.”
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