Aleppo Evacuations Halted as Rebels Open Fire on Convoy

A syrian soldier gestures during the evacuation of insurgents from a rebel-held area of Aleppo towards rebel-held territory in the west of Aleppo's province on December 16, 2016. Russia announced it was negotiating with the Syrian opposition and seeking a nationwide ceasefire, as the evacuation of civilians and fighters from …

(AP) – The evacuation of civilians and opposition fighters from eastern Aleppo have been suspended after rebels opened fire on a convoy at one of the crossing points of the rebel-held enclave, according to Syrian state TV.

It was not immediately clear how long the suspension, which was announced within a couple of hours after the evacuations resumed on Friday, would last.

Ikhbariya TV also claimed that the rebels tried to take with them captives they had seized and were holding in the rebel enclave.

However, a military news service run by Lebanon’s pro-Damascus Hizbullah group said the evacuation had been halted partly due to a failure to evacuate wounded people from two Shia villages besieged by rebels in Idlib.

It also cited previous reasons given for the suspension of the evacuation: that rebels had sought to take prisoners with them and had bombarded a road due to be used by the buses set to conduct the evacuation from the two villages, al-Foua and Kefraya.

Hizbullah, an Iran-backed Lebanese Shia group, is fighting on the side of president Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war.

Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV said buses which were parked at the Ramouseh crossing point in southern Aleppo had left the area after it was targeted by gunmen.

Earlier, Syrian state TV reported that four convoys of fighters and civilians had departed from the rebel enclave on Friday.

In the central province of Hama, buses and ambulances were waiting to evacuate thousands of people from two Shia villages besieged by rebels, a last-minute condition which became part of the ceasefire deal for Aleppo.

Iran had demanded that the evacuations from Foua and Kefraya be tied in with the mass movement out of eastern Aleppo.

Meanwhile, Russian president Vladimir Putin said he and his Turkish counterpart are working to launch a new round of peace talks between the Syrian government and the opposition — negotiations which would take place in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana.

Mr Putin, speaking during on a visit to Japan on Friday, said Ankara had helped to broker the rebel exit from Aleppo that is currently under way. He said he and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan are also working for an overall truce in Syria.

The Russian leader said that once the Syrian army secures control of all of Aleppo, civilians will be able to return to their homes.

It was not immediately clear if western-backed Syrian opposition would accept such a location for peace talks with Mr Assad’s government.
A Turkish official said his country’s aid organisations are helping Syrians who have been evacuated from Aleppo to a border area held by the opposition in Syria’s Idlib province.

Deputy prime minister Veysi Kaynak said on Friday that “20 buses from Aleppo have reached the safe zone under control of the Free Syrian Army in Idlib”. He said 30-35 injured people were being treated at the Sahra hospital just over the border.

Mr Kaynak said there had been a discussion with Syrian opposition forces over the possibility of establishing a centre “within a security zone in Syria”. He told the private Dogan news agency that “Idlib has no physical capacity to accommodate so many people”.

He estimated there are 80,000 to 100,000 individuals who would like to leave Aleppo under the ceasefire deal which Turkey helped broker.

He added that Turkey is willing to provide assistance to “legitimate” Syrian opposition groups to help meet their needs. The minister spoke after visiting the Cilvegozu border crossing with Syria in southern Turkey.