Aleppo evacuation comes to a halt after reports of gunfire

The government suspended the evacuation, pulling out buses that had been ferrying out people yesterday morning and the day before. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
The government suspended the evacuation, pulling out buses that had been ferrying out people yesterday morning and the day before. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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The evacuation of eastern Aleppo stalled yesterday after an eruption of gunfire, as the Syrian government and rebels threw accusations at each ­other.

The government suspended the evacuation, pulling out buses that had been ferrying out people yesterday morning and the day before, after reports of shooting at a crossing point into the enclave.

The foreign minister of Turkey, a backer of the rebels, said he was in talks with his counter­part in Iran, a top ally of the Syrian government, to try to get the process back on track. An emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council has been called to consider the situation, France’s ambassador said.

The suspension demonstrated the fragility of the ceasefire deal under which civilians and fighters inside the few remaining blocks of the rebel enclave in Aleppo were to be taken to opposition-held territory nearby.

It appeared to be linked to a separate evacuation to remove thousands of people from two government-held Shiite villages besieged by the rebels.

The Syrian government says those evacuations and that in eastern Aleppo must be carried out at the same time under the ceasefire deal, but the rebels said there is no connection.

Syrian state media said rebels shelled a road that was supposed to be used by people evacuating from the two villages.

The opposition’s Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, however, said that Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters had cut the road to protest a lack of progress in the evacuations from Foua and Kfarya.

Buses that arrived at a collection point in Hama countryside to pick up people evacuating from the villages waited for hours without any evacuations happening.

Later, two rebel spokesmen who were privy to the talks said fighters besieging the two Shiite villages, including those belonging to the al-Qaeda linked militant group Fatah al-Sham Front, have agreed to evacuate several hundred wounded. If that happens, it may lead to the resumption of evacuations from Aleppo.

There were differing reports on how many people had been evacuated from the enclave and how many remained inside.

According to reports by opposition activists and officials, there were between 15,000 to 40,000 civilians still inside the tiny enclave, along with some 6,000 fighters.

The evacuations seal the end of the Syrian rebels’ most important stronghold – the eastern part of the city of Aleppo – and mark a watershed moment in the country’s civil war.