Evacuations out of Aleppo have stopped, and nobody knows why
Evacuations out of eastern Aleppo were suspended Friday, casting doubt over when remaining evacuations set to transport tens of thousands of desperate residents out of besieged enclaves would resume.
Conflicting reports have emerged over the reasons for the suspension. Syrian state media reported that the evacuations had been called off after rebels breached the terms of a ceasefire, while the Guardian reported that the deal was suspended after Islamist fighters blocked a reciprocal evacuation of besieged pro-government villages elsewhere in the country.
Aid agencies involved in the evacuation plans were told by Syrian authorities to leave the area on Friday, with no explanation given, Elizabeth Hoff, the World Health Organization’s representative in Syria, told reporters.
Reuters reported that a witness heard a number of blasts near the buses’ departure point before the evacuation was called off, prompting buses and ambulances to leave the area.
— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) December 16, 2016
Syria’s state-run SANA news agency reported that rebel groups had breached the terms of the deal by attempting to “smuggle heavy weapons and kidnapped people” in buses carrying them out of opposition-held neighborhoods. The report said that “terrorist groups” had also opened fire on a convoy transporting rebels and their families out of eastern Aleppo, forcing aid agencies to leave the area.
Meanwhile, several news outlets reported that breakdown was due to objections by members of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, a powerful Islamist militia formerly known as the al-Nusra Front, to evacuations of wounded from Foua and Kefraya.
The pro-government, predominantly Shia villages in northern Idlib province have been besieged by rebels since last year, and were due to be evacuated as part of the deal, reportedly at the insistence of Iran, which has played a major role in Assad’s battle for Aleppo.
The latest developments have put the evacuation plans into jeopardy, leaving tens of thousands at the mercy of Syrian allied forces that have been closing in on a decisive victory in the grinding four-year battle for the city.
Eruptions of fighting have continued this week despite the cease-fire deal struck on Tuesday, with planned evacuations only taking place on Thursday – a day late – due to continued violence. More than 8,000 people, including 3,000 fighters, were evacuated Thursday, according to monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, escaping a shrinking patch of rebel-held territory that has been devastated by years of fighting.
Cover: ASSOCIATED PRESS