The evacuation of civilians from Aleppo has halted again, only a day after it restarted. Both the Syrian government and rebel forces are accusing each other of firing on civilian convoys.
“The government suspended the evacuation, pulling out buses that had been ferrying out people Friday 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,” the Associated Press reports.
Part of the problem is that the current ceasefire arrangement links the evacuation of thousands from Shiite villages under siege by the rebels to the evacuation of civilians from rebel-held, government-besieged Aleppo, but the rebels reject this linkage.
Also, Syrian state television reports that rebel forces shelled a road that was supposed to used for evacuation from two of the Shiite villages, and that militants working for al-Qaeda’s former Nusra Front have blocked over a thousand people from leaving Aleppo. Opposition groups counter-accused Iran-backed Hezbollah forces loyal to the Assad regime of cutting off the roads.
“The evacuation was suspended by the regime and the Syrian regime now is shooting at the entrance point using heavy machine guns. A warplane is in the sky now and the Syrian regime is trying to advance in al-Sendyanah bridge, people are gathered in huge numbers and very scared,” activist Mahmoud Raslan told CNN from inside Aleppo. Other reports claim Iranian militia fighters are manning those guns.
The UK Guardian’s report also blames both “al-Qaeda linked militants” for blocking evacuations from Shiite villages, and “pro-Assad militias” for detaining a convoy of 25 vehicles heading out of Aleppo, as causes for the collapse of the latest evacuation plan. Additionally, the apprehension civilians feel about surrendering themselves to regime forces that have been accused of murdering civilians is mentioned.
In any event, the evacuation buses ended up waiting for hours without any civilians showing up. Buses from Aleppo were photographed returning to the ruined city filled with frustrated evacuees after the roads were closed.
Syrian government media also claims the rebels in Aleppo are trying to escape from the area with heavy weapons, and prisoners taken during their long battle with regime forces.
CNN quotes the International Committee of the Red Cross saying the status of evacuation operations is in doubt, and workers for the Red Cross, Red Crescent, and World Health Organization have been told to pull out of eastern Aleppo.
“Very successful evacuations from East Aleppo have been discontinued. Thousands of civilians, including orphans, are still waiting to escape,” said Jan Egeland, chair of the U.N. Task Force on Humanitarian Access in Syria.
In keeping with Egeland’s assessment of the evacuation’s success, somewhere between 8,000 and 9,000 civilians have reportedly been moved out of the dwindling rebel-held sector of Aleppo, leaving over 40,000 trapped by most estimates.
“I have to say it to the world: if they don’t save Aleppo now, they will not save it forever. Aleppo is now without any kind of life. Aleppo now is the place of death. The world should do something,” said a resident of the city quoted by the Guardian.
“The situation of the wounded who remain in Aleppo is horrible. No medicine, no disinfectants, nothing at all. The situation is tragic,” a rebel fighter added.