Aleppo Evacuation Starts, Stops, and Starts Again in a Hail of Gunfire

The Syrian regime and its Russian patron have attempted to patch up the quickly-shattered ceasefire in Aleppo and arrange for civilian evacuations, a point unclear in the previous arrangement.

However, there have been reports of gunfire and bombardment, including attacks on medical convoys, as the first group of civilians moved out.

Reuters reports that one convoy of ambulances and buses made it out of the rebel-held ruins of eastern Aleppo on Thursday, and two more convoys were getting underway. It is likely that today’s convoys represent no more than 2% of the total number of civilians trapped in the besieged area of the city.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak said his country might establish a refugee camp on Syrian soil for Aleppo evacuees.

Earlier in the day, three people were injured when forces loyal to the Syrian regime fired on ambulances. The emergency volunteer group known as the White Helmets said one of its workers was shot by a regime sniper.

The New York Times reports that militia fighters allied with the Syrian government are “unhappy” with the ceasefire deal. Also, the Syrian government wants to detain and interrogate foreign fighters among the rebels, who are understandably nervous at the prospect of “interrogation” by the Assad regime.

The Associated Press reports that the mayor of Aleppo, Brita Hagi Hasan, has appealed to the European Union for help, asking for monitors to ensure the safety of civilian evacuees.

“We want a courageous position from the European Union, a position of sending of sending some forces to monitor the evacuation of civilians,” he said, speaking from the EU headquarters in Brussels. He added that he doesn’t expect Europe to “go to war,” but only asks to “save civilians and ensure some corridors for their evacuation.”

Hasan said there were over 800 wounded in Aleppo requiring immediate evacuation, and another 5,000 wounded who should be removed soon, and then warned the 50,000 civilians in the area “are about to be victims of a general massacre.”

Reuters quotes a senior European diplomat who worried that both rebel fighters and fleeing civilians were likely to converge on Idlib, the last provincial Syrian capital held by insurgent forces, and Idlib would then be treated the way Aleppo was: “For the Russians it’s simple. Place them all in Idlib and then they have all their rotten eggs in one basket.”

“Escaping Aleppo doesn’t mean escaping the war… After witnessing the ferocity of attacks on civilians in Aleppo, we are very concerned that the sieges and barrel bombs will follow the thousands who arrive in Idlib,” the International Rescue Committee said.

The UK Guardian reports criticism of the Syrian government, and its Russian and Iranian allies, from the U.S. and U.K. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the pro-Assad coalition could not “expect any praise for allowing some people to escape the city at the final hours,” and expressed concern about the reports of ambulances taking fire, and fleeing civilians being seized by government forces.

“Aleppo is a tragedy of Russia’s making. But that is not going to distract us from our central purpose, which is to degrade and then defeat Daesh which, in the end, is a menace – a menace to the world as well as the people of Iraq and Syria,” declared U.K. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, at a joint press conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

“Fallon said there was no future in Syria for its president, Bashar al-Assad, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, such as the retaking of Aleppo and the support he enjoys from Putin,” the Guardian added.

For his part, Carter bizarrely said he expected the incoming Trump administration to follow the same course as the Obama administration in Syria because it was “logical” and “makes sense,” even though U.S.-backed rebels faced a decisive defeat as he was speaking, and a massive humanitarian nightmare is unfolding in Aleppo.

The Russians announced on Thursday that talks with the United States over resolution of the crisis in Aleppo have been suspended.

“We see our American partners repeating the same algorithm of behavior over and over again: as soon as experts, delegations reach any agreements in Geneva, Lausanne or any other place, some behind-the-scenes players in Washington, who apparently represent various administration divisions, immediately step in to adjust things, to put it mildly, and, to put it straight, to fight back, to retreat to the initial positions, to bring the entire situation back to level one, using the terms of computer games,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov complained to the TASS news service on Thursday.

Ryabkov went on to say that Russia was now more interested in “consultations with Turkish colleagues” to “ensure the ceasefire and agree with the opposition in order to see humanitarian problems in Aleppo settled rightly.” He praised Ankara for “pursuing a rather responsible and constructive policy on the settlement and normalization of the current situation.”

However, he said Russia would not “dodge” contacts with American officials, and might resume talks “in different formats” in the future.


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