Hundreds of civilians evacuated from rebel enclave in Aleppo

Buses line up to evacuate rebel fighters and their families from the embattled city of Aleppo yesterday. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Buses line up to evacuate rebel fighters and their families from the embattled city of Aleppo yesterday. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

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Hundreds of civilians were evacuated from the last rebel enclave in the embattled Syrian city Aleppo yesterday.

Syrian television showed live footage of a long convoy of ambulances and green buses driving out and crossing the Ramouseh bridge, en route through government territory and into a rural, rebel-held part of Aleppo province.

President Bashar al-Assad said “history is being made” with the defeat of insurgents of Aleppo.

In a video posted on the Syrian presidency’s Telegram channel yesterday, Mr Assad said that “what is happening is bigger than congratulations”.

Driving insurgents from Syria’s largest city is Mr Assad’s greatest victory since the start of the conflict.

Ingy Sedky, Damascus spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the evacuation yesterday consisted of 13 ambulances, each carrying two wounded people, and 20 buses, each carrying up to 50 people, travelling in the convoy. They included some critically wounded people.

A second convoy of ambulances and buses carrying civilians and rebel fighters then left the city yesterday afternoon, according to the Russian defence ministry.

The ministry said the convoy, accompanied by Russian military officers, would follow the same route out of Aleppo taken by the first convoy.

The evacuation is part of a ceasefire 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 enclave. It will mark the end of the opposition’s four-year control of eastern Aleppo.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed and tens of thousands displaced in the government’s campaign to retake Aleppo.

It comes after a massive government offensive drove the opposition fighters from nearly all of eastern Aleppo, which they had held since 2012.

Russia is a key ally of Mr Assad’s, and has been providing airstrikes in support of his forces for more than a year.

Plans to evacuate on Wednesday were thwarted 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.

Separately Syrian 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.

A rebel spokesman involved in the negotiation over Aleppo evacuations said that Iran had made the demands about the Shiite villages besieged by rebels at the last minute, holding up the deal. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of ongoing negotiations.

Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group said overnight negotiations had reinforced a ceasefire deal to allow the rebels and civilians to leave eastern Aleppo.

Shiite Hezbollah militiamen are fighting in the Syrian civil war on the side of Mr Assad’s forces.

The handover of Aleppo’s remaining opposition-run neighbourhoods to government control would be a turning point in Syria’s civil war, allowing Mr Assad control of most of the country’s urban centres.

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