Civilians And Rebel Fighters Begin To Leave In East Aleppo Evacuation
Despite the outbreak of violence, the first groups of wounded civilians boarded government buses and Red Cross ambulances out of the city.
The first group of civilians have been evacuated from rebel-held eastern Aleppo, the Red Cross has confirmed.
The planned evacuation saw a convoy of 20 buses and 13 ambulances leave eastern Aleppo at around 3pm (local time) on Thursday afternoon. More buses, as well as ambulances, are expected to follow although it remains unclear how long the total evacuation of what was once rebel territory will take.
An earlier convoy had been attacked by pro-government forces on Thursday morning, temporarily scuttling the ceasefire agreed late last night, activists said. Despite this, campaigners later confirmed the arrival of ambulances entering to collect civilians from the besieged parts of the city.
This was corroborated by the International Committee of the Red Cross — working with the Red Crescent — which said an operation to evacuate critically wounded people was "under way".
People, many of whom had been queuing outside since the early hours of Thursday morning, expressed frustration with the slow pace of the evacuation from the devastated rebel-held neighborhoods.
"Many people are saying that they are not going out today, but they were eager to leave today to see their wives outside," Wissam Zarqa, an activist in east Aleppo, said in a recorded message posted in Aleppo media WhatsApp group.
"There is no way to go, it is very crowded," he said, "and I expect it will take more than two days."
The evacuation's start was reported by Russia's TASS news agency, citing the Russian defense ministry. Pro-government Syrian TV also played clips of buses and ambulances entering and then leaving the formerly rebel-held parts of the city.
Footage circulating on social media allegedly showed wounded people being put into ambulances before they left.
It is believed that those evacuated will be taken out of the east of the city via Aleppo's industrial Ramouseh district, before heading west into the countryside around Aleppo or Idlib province.
It follows a brief outbreak in violence earlier that overshadowed the evacuation. Activists in the Aleppo media WhatsApp group said that militia members at one of the Syrian regime's checkpoints had targeted ambulances, killing one patient and injuring a number of others.
"I am now in the front of the medical centre where the injured people want to go out. The civilians were preparing the road when they were attacked by the regime checkpoint, and one of the people was killed," one activist said. "I think the regime will not let anyone get out."
No ambulances have been able to leave rebel-held territory yet, hospital director and opposition activist Hamza Khatib told the Associated Press. The incident was also confirmed by the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said the ambulance was still in rebel-held territory when it was attacked.
Other members of the WhatsApp group said the manager of the Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, had been hurt, as well as a cameraman.
There was confusion on the ground as to who had broken the ceasefire. Reports indicated the fighting broke out at a regime checkpoint, but it appears that the shots were fired by Iranian-backed militias, according to local media.
The ceasefire had held from from 2:30 a.m. (local time) Thursday morning, an official with the Jabha Shamiya rebel group told Reuters.
During the early hours of Thursday, the evacuation was confirmed by a Syrian army official, according to the Associated Press. Russian soldiers were intending to lead the rebel fighters out of the city, Reuters reported.