Syria suspends Aleppo evacuations

Smoke is seen billowing in the background on Wednesday in this picture taken in a rebel-held neighbourhood in Aleppo.  

The Syrian government on Friday suspended an operation to evacuate civilians and fighters from the last rebel-held parts of Aleppo, accusing the opposition of violating the deal, a security source said.

The operation to evacuate remaining civilians and fighters from east Aleppo began on Thursday afternoon and continued through the night.

Syrian rebel groups on Wednesday announced a new ceasefire deal that would see the evacuation of wounded people and civilians from opposition-held districts of Aleppo the following morning.


Also read: The battle for Aleppo — a timeline

Also read: Image of injured Aleppo boy captures horrors of Syria war

Syria suspends Aleppo evacuations

Syrian state TV says evacuations 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

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U.N. Security Council to meet

The UN Security Council will meet behind closed doors tomorrow to discuss the crisis in Aleppo after civilians began evacuating and Syrian forces moved to assert full control over the city.

France requested the urgent consultations, set for around midday (1700 GMT), to push for international observers to be sent to the city to monitor the situation and ensure deliveries of humanitarian aid.

“In these very dark days in Aleppo, it is critically important to have international observers under the surveillance of the UN to oversee the situation,” French Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters.

'50,000 people still trapped in eastern Aleppo'

Around 50,000 people, the majority civilians, were still trapped in eastern Aleppo even as an evacuation deal was under way, the UN peace envoy for Syria and French foreign minister said on Thursday.

"There are 50,000 people, including 40,000 civilians unfortunate enough to live in that part of the city. The rest are fighters, numbering between 1,500 and 5,000, and their families," the UN's Staffan de Mistura told reporters in Paris, alongside France's Jean-Marc Ayrault.

Turkey had earlier said 80,000 to 100,000 civilians were likely still trapped in eastern Aleppo.

"Our priority is for our UN colleagues to be present with the people (who have been evacuated) and that the fighters be respected under the terms of this deal," De Mistura said.

First evacuation underway

A convoy of ambulances carrying the first group of wounded and other civilians began leaving eastern Aleppo on Thursday.

Syrian TV 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. 

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Hezbollah media says ceasefire deal on track

A military media unit run by Damascus's ally Hezbollah said early on Thursday that overnight contacts succeeded in reviving a ceasefire that would lead to the evacuation of rebels from Syria's Aleppo city “within hours".

“Intensive contacts between the responsible parties involved in the negotiations led to re-consolidating a ceasefire to exit armed fighters from eastern districts in the next few hours," the unit said in a statement.

Eiffel Tower blacks out for Aleppo

The lights of the Eiffel Tower in Paris were switched off to show support for the people of the shattered Syrian city of Aleppo.

The monument was plunged into darkness from 8:00 pm yesterday in what Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said was a protest at the “unbearable” situation for civilians in the city where fighting raged during the day.

Syria rebels say Aleppo evacuation deal back on

Syrian rebels say a ceasefire deal for the evacuation of fighters and civilians from eastern Aleppo is back on, hours after it collapsed.

Spokesmen for three rebel group said the ceasefire would go into effect later Wednesday night and implementation of the deal would begin early Thursday.

The evacuation from a sliver of territory the rebels still hold in eastern Aleppo was supposed to begin at dawn Wednesday, but shelling resumed in the morning hours. Rebels accused the Syrian government and its allies of derailing the deal by placing new conditions.

Ahmed Karali, spokesman for the Ahrar Sham rebel group, said Wednesday that the deal was then salvaged. He added that the first group of wounded people and civilians would begin leaving early Thursday morning. Two other rebel spokesmen confirmed.

SOS from Aleppo on social media

Several citizens from Aleppo have meanwhile taken to popular social media sites – Twitter and Facebook - to transmit their distress messages.


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Hope gives way to nightmare  for Aleppo civilians

In the last rebel-held pocket of Aleppo, residents are bidding a tearful farewell to their battleground city, expecting to evacuate, only to be plunged back into a familiar nightmare.

“Bombing is ongoing, no one can move. Everyone is hiding and terrified. The situation is indescribable," AFP quotes activist Mohammad al-Khatib as saying on Wednesday from inside the northern Syrian city“The wounded and dead are lying in the street. No one dares to try and retrieve the bodies.”

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Nearly 1,000 held at Iran checkpoint outside Aleppo

Nearly 1,000 people from Aleppo evacuated overnight after a ceasefire deal are held at an Iranian militia checkpoint outside the city, says Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency quoting the head of the Turkish Red Crescent.

“These people had passed the Russian check point,” Anadolu quotes Kerem Kinik as saying, referring to those evacuated. “But after leaving Aleppo, they were stopped at the second point where Iranian militia was present and still they are denied passage." - Reuters

Iran proclaims Syrian regime victory in Aleppo


Iran is congratulating its close ally Syria on driving rebels from Aleppo.

Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani says the “brave sons of the region” have forced the “mercenary terrorists” to retreat.

Thousands of Shia fighters from Iran, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan are battling alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces as they near victory in Aleppo, the country’s largest city and former commercial capital. Russia, another key ally, has provided airstrikes.

Gen. Rahim Safavi, a senior adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, says that after Aleppo, “Americans have realised that the Islamic Republic of Iran is the top player in southwest Asia”. - AFP

Erdogan to discuss Aleppo truce with Putin


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he would speak to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in an effort to rescue a ceasefire deal which was to allow civilians and rebel fighters to be evacuated from Aleppo.

“I will speak with Mr Putin again later in the evening,” Mr. Erdogan says during a televised speech in Ankara. "The situation on the ground is very fragile and complicated."


‘Syrian regime jets hit east Aleppo’


Syrian activists say fighter jets have resumed bombing raids over remaining rebel areas in eastern Aleppo, further imperilling a ceasefire deal for the city.

Media activist Mahmoud Raslan says the aircraft bombed the rebel Ansari district in the city on Wednesday.

Mr. Raslan says the bombing is a de facto announcement that “they are going to kill us all”.

A member of the first responders’ team in eastern Aleppo, Ibrahem alHaj, confirms the strikes.

They are Syrian government jets, reports AFP quoting Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

According to the Observatory government warplanes pounded several parts of the few districts still held by the rebels. 

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Fierce fighting, shelling resume in Aleppo

Fierce fighting and shelling shook Syria's Aleppo on Wednesday, an AFP correspondent reported, as sources said a deal to evacuate civilians and fighters from rebel-held districts was on hold.

An AFP correspondent in a rebel-held area of east Aleppo saw several wounded civilians nearby as the area came under heavy tank fire.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed shelling and "very intense clashes on every front line."

There was preliminary information about casualties, the Britain-based monitor said.

"Regime forces have fired dozens of shells since this morning on areas held by the opposition factions, which have also fired at least eight shells so far into regime-controlled areas," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Aleppo had seen several hours of calm after an agreement to evacuate civilians and fighters from the last rebel-held areas was announced on Tuesday.

But rebels and a source close to the regime said the deal was on hold on Wednesday after objections from the Syrian government.

A source close to the government said Damascus objected to the number of people seeking to leave and wanted the names of evacuees.

"The government has suspended the evacuation deal because originally it was for the departure of 2,000 fighters and now there will be more than 10,000 people," he told AFP.

"The government also wants a list of the people who are leaving because they could include hostages or prisoners," he said.

Yasser al-Youssef, a political official from the Nureddin al-Zinki rebel group, accused the government and its ally Iran of "blocking civilians from leaving after adding new conditions" to the deal.

‘Aleppo evacuation deal on hold’

A deal to evacuate civilians and rebels from opposition-held parts of Aleppo is on hold after objections from Syria's government, rebels and a source close to the regime said on Wednesday.

Rebels said the government and its ally Iran were blocking the deal's implementation. The source close to the regime said the government was objecting to the number of people that would be evacuated and demanding their names. - AFP

Syrian Army resumes Aleppo assault, says Russia

Russia's Defence Ministry says that the Syrian Army resumed its assault in eastern Aleppo after rebels broke a truce intended to allow them to evacuate.

The Ministry says that its military monitors in Syria organised the evacuation of fighters from the city by bus following an agreement between rebel leaders and Damascus, a process that was supposed to begin at 4.00 a.m. GMT (9.30 a.m. IST).

But the convoy of civilian buses gathered in the Salaheddin neighbourhood came under fire from rebel territory after the fighters "regrouped and relaunched hostilities" in an attempt to break through Syrian positions to the northwest, the Ministry said.

"The attack by the terrorists was warded off. The Syrian Army continued its operation to liberate the eastern districts of Aleppo controlled by the rebels," Russia's military said in a statement, without specifying whether the regime operation was ongoing.

A deal reached on Tuesday, which would end years of opposition resistance in the city, called on civilians and rebels to promptly start evacuating from Aleppo.

Aleppo truce collapses?

Media reports say that buses, which were meant to evacuate rebels and tens of thousands of civilians from eastern Aleppo, have left the crossing point on the edge of the opposition enclave and returned to their depots.

The buses’ departure could signal a major delay in the evacuations and even the collapse of the ceasefire deal.

The Lebanese channel al-Manar TV has broadcast footage showing Syrian government’s green coloured buses leaving the evacuation point without any passengers on Wednesday.

Al-Manar is the media arm of the Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government forces in Syria.

Shelling and rocket fire also resumed on Wednesday at the edges of the opposition’s one-square-km enclave in Aleppo. - AP

'Bombing of eastern Aleppo has resumed'

Syrian activists say shelling has resumed in the remaining rebel part of eastern the city of Aleppo, despite a cease-fire deal to allow for the evacuations of the opposition fighters and tens of thousands of civilians.

Aleppo media activist Mahmoud Raslan says he was reporting for a Turkish agency when a rocket crashed beside him at around 10:15 a.m. on Wednesday. He shared an audio recording of the explosion with the Associated Press.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says an explosion was heard in the rebel-held Saif al-Dawleh district around the same time.

Pro-government forces have trapped thousands of civilians and gunmen in eastern Aleppo under a crushing bombardment over the past weeks as they pushed to clear the northern city of the opposition.  - AP

After Aleppo cease-fire deal, rebel pullout delayed

The Syrian rebel pullout from their last holdout in the city of Aleppo has been delayed. 
The withdrawal was supposed to start early in the morning on Wednesday after the rebels the previous day reached a cease-fire deal to evacuate from eastern Aleppo in what is effectively a surrender and a defining moment in Syria's civil war.

Late on Tuesday, the U.N. envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, called for immediate access to the former rebel enclave to confirm the end of military operations and to oversee the safe departure of tens of thousands of civilians and opposition fighters from the last sliver of eastern Aleppo into which they had been squeezed by advancing Syrian government forces. 
De Mistura was at the Security Council where an emergency meeting for Aleppo was held.

In this image from video, people march toward the Russian consulate in Istanbul on December 13, 2016 to protest against Russia's involvement in the Syrian government's push to retake rebel-held areas of the city of Aleppo.

In this image from video, people march toward the Russian consulate in Istanbul on December 13, 2016 to protest against Russia's involvement in the Syrian government's push to retake rebel-held areas of the city of Aleppo.   | Photo Credit: AP

The pan-Arab al-Mayadeen TV broadcast footage of Syrian government buses idling at an agreed-on evacuation point. It's unclear what has caused the delay. 
The TV says it expects at least another couple of hours of delay. It says the buses are prepared to move 5,000 fighters and their families to Atareb, an opposition-held town in the northwestern Aleppo countryside. 
The Syrian government or the opposition haven't made any announcements about the delay. - AP

U.N. says “not involved” in Aleppo evacuation plans, but ready to help

The United Nations said on Wednesday it was “not involved” in plans to evacuate fighters and civilians from eastern Aleppo, but it was ready to help with any evacuation.

“(The U.N) stands ready to facilitate the voluntary and safe evacuation of injured, sick and vulnerable civilians from the besieged part of the city,” the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said in a statement. - Reuters

Analysis: Advantage Assad — Aleppo capture a key moment

The Syrian government's recapture of Aleppo after a prolonged and punishing air assault is a defining moment in the country's devastating civil war: it leaves President Bashar Assad in control of almost all major urban areas and poised to petition for a role in the world community's broader war against Islamic State (IS) militants clinging to parts of Syria's northeast.

The prospect of such cooperation would once have been considered highly improbable. Mr. Assad became anathema in the West and much of the region after the brutal means he employed during six years of carnage that killed hundreds of thousands, displaced half his population and sent millions of refugees to neighbouring countries and Europe.

But much has changed. Vladimir Putin's Russia is fully engaged on Mr. Assad's side, with no world players eager to take it on. The assortment of rebel groups now clings to a handful of pockets around the country, lacking momentum and likely to return to a low-grade insurgency at best. 
Most critically, the incoming U.S. President projects a sort of flexibility lacking under Barack Obama. Promising to scale up the war on the IS group, Donald Trump has hinted he would be ready to work with Mr. Assad and Russia. “I don't like Assad at all,” Mr. Trump said during the second presidential debate in October. “But Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS,” he said, using an alternative acronym for the group. And his selection of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who has extensive business dealings with Russia and ties to Putin, has only fuelled speculation that Mr. Trump would pursue closer ties with Moscow.

If such a shift occurs, it would resolve an awkwardness that has bedevilled the two-year, U.S.-led military effort to uproot IS militants from the swaths of Iraq and Syria they seized in 2014. In these areas, the group established an extraordinarily ruthless “caliphate” with mass killings and enslavement, imposed their brutal interpretation of Islam and fomented regional insurgencies and global terrorism.

That helped pull together a broad coalition of Western and Middle Eastern nations that seems near victory in Iraq, where the Baghdad government has been a critical ally leading the fight on the ground and where a major battle for the key city of Mosul is now underway. 
But in Syria, the fight was complicated by Mr. Assad's pariah status. Lacking a local military ally, the U.S.-led coalition has partnered with irregulars and relied on air power and some special forces' operations. That approach, which has had modest success, may well erode if Mr. Assad is widely deemed to have survived the war.

Aleppo is key to cementing that perception, its loss is a crushing blow to the rebels, leaving them little chance of recovering momentum. Syria's largest city was once the country's commercial powerhouse, holding symbolic and strategic importance as an ancient trading post and long-time gateway to Turkey and the West. Mr. Assad also controls the capital, Damascus, the major cities of Homs and Hama, as well as most of the Lebanese border and the Mediterranean coast, where his minority Alawite sect holds sway.

Mr. Assad has vowed to carry on with the war until all of Syria is retaken, but has expressed confidence that opposition to him is on the decline. “Even if we finish in Aleppo, we will carry on with the war against them,” he told a local newspaper last week. 
Now he can free up some of his troops and thousands of allied militiamen to turn to remaining pockets held by rebels elsewhere in Syria, as well as the Islamic State jihadis. These rebel areas include some stretches around Damascus and near the Jordanian border, as well as in northern Idlib province, a stronghold of Syria's al-Qaeda affiliate.

People carry their belongings as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria on Tuesday.

People carry their belongings as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria on Tuesday.   | Photo Credit: Reuters


“The recapture of Aleppo will position Assad to claim that he is Syria's legitimate sovereign ruler and lobby the international community to provide him with support,” said Jennifer Cafarella of the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.

It's unclear whether Mr. Assad will prioritize retaking Palmyra, with what's left of its archaeological treasures after the first Islamic State occupation. He may prefer to wait a few months in hopes of engineering a new situation with the new team in Washington.

Either way, Syria's future will likely be messy for a while, given the array of armed factions, the likelihood of continued foreign meddling through porous borders and the trauma and rage felt by much of the population. Many expect a continued insurgency, which in turn would help Mr. Assad argue that he should be viewed as a partner in the international fight against “terrorism.”

In the battle for local hearts and minds, it looms large that Mr. Assad relied so heavily not only on Russia and long-time ally Iran to retake Aleppo, but was also aided by Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah militia and volunteers from Iraq and Afghanistan.

This stands in stark contrast to the outside powers supporting the opposition. No one sent in troops other than Turkey, an intervention mostly bent on downsizing Kurdish fighters it deemed a threat to its own security. The Syrian rebels were armed only lightly, and the United States refrained from attacking Mr. Assad even after the 2013 use of chemical weapons. Even the notion of a no-fly zone over northern Syria was rejected.

Ms. Cafarella said this environment legitimizes an emerging al-Qaeda narrative that the international community allowed Iran and Russia to dominate Syria, and as a puppet Mr. Assad must be opposed.

“Al-Qaeda's ability to recruit will grow rather than diminish after Aleppo's fall,” she said. “The terror threat emanating from Syria will increase rather than decrease.”

A big question now is the position of Mr. Assad's regional enemies, from Saudi Arabia and other gulf nations to Turkey. Mr. Assad may lobby for restarting peace talks, betting on the opposition's weakness to force concessions â” chiefly that he should remain in power at the head of a more inclusive government. But given the epic devastation he has overseen, a genuine rapprochement seems unlikely in the extreme. - AP

Rebels to evacuate Aleppo in surrender deal as fighting ends

Syrian rebels reached a cease-fire deal to evacuate from eastern Aleppo in an effective surrender on Tuesday, as Russia declared all military action had stopped and the Syrian government had assumed control of the former rebel enclave.

The dramatic developments, which appeared to restore the remainder of what was once Syria’s largest city to President Bashar Assad’s forces after months of heavy fighting and a crippling siege, followed reports of mass killings by government forces closing in on the final few blocks still held by the rebels.

Damascus confirmed the evacuation deal and the U.N. envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, called for immediate access to the former rebel enclave to confirm the end of military operations and to oversee the safe departure of tens of thousands of civilians and opposition fighters. He was at the Security Council where an emergency meeting for Aleppo was underway.

Children walk together as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, in Syria on December 13, 2016.

Children walk together as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, in Syria on December 13, 2016.   | Photo Credit: Reuters


Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin took to the floor near the end of the session at the U.N. Security Council to announce fighting had ended.

“According to the latest information that we received ... military actions in eastern Aleppo are over,” Mr. Churkin said. “The Syrian government has re-established control over eastern Aleppo.”

Minutes earlier, he had announced that “all militants” and members of their families, as well as those wounded in the fighting, were being evacuated through “agreed corridors in directions that they have chosen voluntarily,” including the rebel stronghold of Idlib province.

As word spread of the deal, celebrations broke out in the government-controlled western sector of Aleppo, with convoys of cars driving around honking their cars and waving Syrian flags from the windows. - AP

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