(AFP) BEIRUT, Lebanon — More than 1,000 people were evacuated from the last rebel-held pocket of the eastern area of the war-ravaged Syrian city of Aleppo early on Monday after hours of delay, a medical official told AFP.
Dr Ahmad Dbis, who heads a team of doctors and volunteers coordinating evacuations, said he estimated that around 1,200 people, including women and children, had arrived at the staging ground west of the city.
Dozens of buses on Sunday began entering the last rebel-held parts of east Aleppo to resume the evacuation of thousands of increasingly desperate trapped civilians and rebels.
The operation was suspended on Friday, a day after convoys of evacuees had begun leaving the rebel sector under a deal allowing the regime to take full control of the battleground city.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said an estimated 500 people had also been evacuated from two pro-regime Shiite villages in northwestern Syria that are under siege by the rebels. Thousands of people were leaving the last rebel-held parts of Aleppo in exchange for residents leaving Fuaa and Kafraya in the neighboring province of Idlib.
Buses sent to evacuate people from the two villages came under attack from gunmen on Sunday, but a senior military source said the incident should not disrupt parallel evacuations from Aleppo. But two dozen armed men attacked buses on their way to the villages under rebel siege, an AFP reporter said.
They made the drivers get out, opened fire on the vehicles and set fire to the fuel tanks of at least 20 buses, the reporter said.
The attack came after five other buses had entered the villages.
The identity of the attackers was not immediately clear, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two member groups of a coalition of Islamist rebels controlling most of Idlib had disagreed over the evacuations.
Fateh al-Sham Front, which was formerly known as the Al-Nusra Front before renouncing ties with al-Qaeda, disagreed with Ahrar al-Sham over the deal, the monitoring group said.
The military source said the attack should not affect any of the evacuation operations.
“There’s collective will for the deal to stay in place. There must be solutions for all obstacles,” the source said.
In mid-November, forces loyal to President Bashar Assad launched a blistering offensive to seize all of Aleppo, where rebel areas have been besieged by regime forces since July.
A senior Iranian official on Sunday complained of bias in attitudes towards civilians in east Aleppo and those of the two Shiite villages.
“While the Western-Hebrew-Arabic media have united to spread false information on the human losses in Aleppo, they remain silent on the need to evacuate the wounded and elderly from Fuaa and Kafraya,” said Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.