After hours of shelling in what remains of the rebel-held territory of eastern Aleppo in Syria, a ceasefire deal to evacuate fighters and their families was back on, rebel groups said.
Evacuation of people trapped in the city had been planned for Wednesday, but a deal soon broke down and fighting resumed. Government buses, brought into the devastated neighborhoods under the terms of Tuesday's fragile ceasefire agreement between Russia and Turkey, were left empty after waiting for hours.
The ceasefire was back on as of late Wednesday night, and rebel groups said they hoped people would be evacuated starting early Thursday, the Associated Press and Reuters reported.
Earlier in the day, activists reported outbreaks of gunfire and airstrikes, including cluster bombs, on the rebel-held areas.
“Hundreds of shellings, the killed and the injured in the streets, on the ground, no one leave, SOS,” one Syrian activist trapped inside told a group of journalists on a WhatsApp group. “We want to leave. We don’t want more massacres. What is happening?”
There were no reliable estimates on the number killed or injured, although Ibrahim Abu-Laith, a spokesman for the White Helmets volunteers, told the BBC as many as 40 people had been injured in this morning's bombing.
Another Syrian activist told the group of journalists on the WhatsApp group that the bombs had been falling "since the early morning, even the points where people were supposed to be evacuated from."
"The injured are lying on the grounds," he said, "the dead are on the grounds, there are no cars or anything to save them, the shelling is continuing."
The original ceasefire, which had reportedly been in effect since 5 a.m. local time (3 a.m. GMT) Wednesday morning, was brokered between Russia, the Syrian government's main international supporter, and Turkey, which backs the rebels.
However, almost immediately, the deal began to unravel. Yasser al-Youssef, spokesman for the Aleppo rebel group Nour al-Din al-Zenki, blamed Iranian-backed militias, who are supporting the government regime, for the initial breakdown.
The Syrian government, as well as Iran, added new last-minute conditions, including the exchange of government fighters in outlying regions before they would begin moving civilians and fighters out of east Aleppo.
Ultimately, rebels agreed to those terms. Thursday's expected evacuation of people from Aleppo came in exchange for evacuation 15,000 people from outlying villages, Reuters reported.
Russian foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday he expected the resistance to last "two to three days," before the Syrian government took complete control of the city. They currently hold approximately 99% of the city.
In response, Turkey's president Recep Erdogan accused the Russian forces of breaking the ceasefire, and called for residents in eastern Aleppo to be allowed to flee.
Activists and residents tweeting from eastern Aleppo expressed their anger and fear with the international community as the bombing resumed.
Yesterday, many believed they were about to die in the final assault, sending terrifying "final messages" to the world.
Eastern Aleppo has been held by a ragtag band of rebel forces since 2012. But since early November, a government assault aided by Russian airstrikes and Iranian-backed militias, has slowly penned the rebels into a fraction of the city.