The Syrian government suspended the evacuation of civilians and fighters from the last rebel-held parts of Aleppo yesterday, leaving thousands of people trapped and uncertain of their fate.
Appeals came in from around the world for the evacuations to resume, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warning that Aleppo had become “a synonym for hell”.
The United Nations urges “the parties to take all necessary measures to allow safe resumption of this evacuation process”, he said in New York.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also called for all sides to respect the Aleppo deal.
Ankara, which helped broker the accord with regime ally Moscow, said thousands of people were still waiting to leave.
Turkey and a Syrian military source said the evacuation had been suspended but was not yet over, while Moscow insisted the operation was now “complete”, with all women and children moved from the city.
Amid the confusion, a convoy of evacuees that had already left the east when the operation was suspended was forced to turn back, an AFP correspondent said.
The delicate operation to bring the last civilians and rebels out of east Aleppo began on Thursday and continued overnight, with thousands of people leaving in buses and ambulances.
But yesterday morning it was abruptly suspended, with the government accusing rebels of violating the terms of the accord.
The opposition accused the government of suspending the operation in a bid to secure the evacuation of residents from Fuaa and Kafraya, two villages under rebel siege in northwest Syria.
The government and its other main ally Iran have reportedly sought to add an evacuation of civilians from the villages to the terms of the Aleppo deal.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, also said the suspension appeared to be related to the two villages.
It said pro-government fighters had blocked the road out of Aleppo that the evacuation convoy had been using and rebels were refusing the evacuation of residents of Fuaa and Kafraya.
The evacuation of the last pocket of rebel territory in Aleppo had been scheduled to begin on Wednesday, but was delayed by a day because of government objections, including over Fuaa and Kafraya.
Clashes resumed for several hours before the deal was revived, and on Thursday afternoon buses and ambulances began transporting evacuees to rebel territory in the west of Aleppo province.
The Observatory estimated some 8,500 people had left before the operation was suspended, including around 3,000 rebels. Syrian state media reported a figure of around 8,000.
The evacuations have been emotional for departing residents desperate for relief after months of bombardment and siege, but also tearful at the prospect of potentially permanent exile.
lHE Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani yesterday held a telephone call with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu. The call discussed the humanitarian situation in Aleppo in light of the recent escalations, and means of keeping the evacuations under way and ensuring the protection of civilians and the delivery of humanitarian aid to the region.
Obama: Assad, Russia and Iran have blood on hands
US President Barack Obama declared yesterday that Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime and its Iranian and Russian backers are responsible for the slaughter of civilians in Aleppo, with “blood on their hands.”
“The world as we speak is united in horror at the savage assault by the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies on the city of Aleppo,” he told an end-of-year news conference.
“This blood and these atrocities are on their hands,” he said, before admitting to reporters that he also asks himself whether the United States has done enough to halt the war.
“There are places around the world where horrible things are happening and - because of my office, because I’m president of the United States - I feel responsible,” he said.
“Is there something I could do that would save lives and make a difference and spare some child who doesn’t deserve to suffer? So that’s a starting point.”
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