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Evacuation convoy starts leaving Aleppo

By Agencies in Aleppo, Syria | China Daily | Updated: 2016-12-16 07:48

Evacuation convoy starts leaving Aleppo

Participants attend a rally in solidarity with the people of Aleppo and against Russia's support of the Syrian army and President Bashar al-Assad, in front of the Russian embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, December 15, 2016. [Photo/Agencies]

Residents in eastern Aleppo started to board buses and ambulances as the long-awaited pullout from the last rebel enclave in the embattled Syrian city got underway on Thursday.

The evacuation was part of a cease-fire deal reached this week to have the opposition surrender their last foothold in Aleppo to Syrian government control in the face of a devastating ground and air offensive by government forces in the past weeks that chipped away at the rebel stronghold. The rebel pullout will mark the end of the rebels' four-year control of eastern Aleppo.

Plans to evacuate on Wednesday were scuttled when the area erupted in violence, raising the haunting possibility that all-out war could consume the city again. Much of eastern Aleppo has been reduced to a scene of devastation and rubble.

Earlier on Thursday, the International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed its staff arrived together with the Syrian Arab Red Cross to evacuate 200 wounded people from the enclave, some in critical condition.

Syrian state television reported that at least 4,000 rebels and their families would be evacuated under the plan.

Syrian state TV has broadcast footage showing a convoy of green-colored municipal buses rumbling toward the agreed-on evacuation point inside the opposition-held area. The Russian military said 20 buses and 10 ambulances would take the rebels to the rebel-held areas in the province of Idlib later on Thursday.

The Russian military said the Syrian government had given security guarantees to all rebels willing to leave Aleppo and that the Russians were monitoring the situation using drones.

Separately but in a key addendum to the deal Syria state TV said 29 buses and ambulances were heading to two Shiite villages besieged by rebels to evacuate those critically ill and other humanitarian cases. The TV quoted Hama provincial governor, Mohammed al-Hazouri, as saying that the medical teams were heading to Foua and Kfraya for those evacuations.

The Turkey-Russia brokered truce-and-evacuations deal for Aleppo was held up on Wednesday over demands by Syrian government allies to evacuate the sick and other humanitarian cases from the two villages.

More than 310,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began, and over half the population has been displaced, with millions becoming refugees.

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