Aleppo: Civilian convoy ‘attacked’ as evacuation starts

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Cii Radio| Ayesha Ismail| 15 December 2016| 15 Rabi ul Awal 1438

Militias loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have reportedly killed at least one person and injured more while firing on a convoy of injured civilians being evacuated from the remaining rebel-held pockets of east Aleppo as part of a ceasefire agreement.

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Thursday morning, Ibrahim Abu Allaith of the Syrian Civil Defence said that one person was killed when pro-government militias opened fire. At least four more were injured, among them a medical worker.

“There are very serious injuries,” he told Al Jazeera. “There are at least three people in [medical] operations right now.”

Earlier on Thursday, the convoy began a journey which is intended to take patients through government territory into the rebel-held western Aleppo countryside as agreed in an evacuation deal this week, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

As part of the agreement, the Russian defence ministry said on Thursday morning that it was preparing for the transfer of rebel fighters by buses and ambulances to Idlib city, located some 65 kilometres (around 40 miles) from Aleppo.

Ahmad Qura Ali, the spokesman for the Ahrar al Sham armed group, told Reuters: “There were Iranian efforts to exploit the situation in Aleppo and prevent any evacuation of our people from besieged Aleppo but in the end a deal was reached despite the Iranian intransigence.”

Deadly fighting broke out on Wednesday after a similar truce deal collapsed.

Under the initial plan, thousands of civilians and rebel fighters were due early on Wednesday to evacuate the east of Syria’s second city, scene of some of the worst violence in more than five years of war across the country.

The delay came on Wednesday morning when pro-government Shia militias demanded that civilians in Kafraya and al-Fua – two towns besieged by armed opposition groups – be evacuated, as well.

Thursday’s agreement will reportedly allow for the evacuation of injured residents from the two towns.

‘Dead lying in the street’
Syrian state television said rebel rocket fire on government-controlled areas also had killed at least seven people on Wednesday, while deaths and injuries were reported in rebel-controlled parts of eastern Aleppo.

Former al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham said on Wednesday that one of its suicide bombers detonated a car bomb at a regime position in southern Aleppo.

Turkey said it would meet with Russia and Iran in Moscow on December 27 to discuss a political solution to the conflict in Syria.

Syria’s army has pressed a month-long assault that has seen it take more than 90 percent of the former rebel stronghold in east Aleppo.

Turkey has said those leaving would be taken to Idlib province, which is controlled by a powerful rebel alliance that includes Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.

Sharif Nashashibi, a writer and Middle East analyst, said the Syrian government’s advances in Aleppo had created “a sense of emboldenment” among government forces and their allies.

“No doubt this is a big blow to the opposition, but this isn’t a prelude to outright victory as the regime and its supporters are portraying it,” he told Al Jazeera.

“It’s fanciful to think Assad can just roll on and take the whole country. Even if he managed, it would be on the backs of Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah forces.”

Summary executions
The UN said on Tuesday that it had credible reports of at least 82 civilians, including 11 women and 13 children, being executed in recent days.

And the UN’s Commission of Inquiry for Syria said it had received reports opposition fighters were blocking civilians from fleeing Aleppo and using them as human shields.

Aleppo, a cultural and economic hub second only to Damascus in importance, had been split between a rebel-controlled east and government-held west since 2012.

It was unclear how many civilians remained in rebel territory, after an estimated 130,000 fled to other parts of Aleppo during the government advance since mid-November.

Syria’s conflict has evolved from largely unarmed protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad into a full-scale civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced more than half of the country’s prewar population.

Marwan Kabalan, a Syria analyst and associate political analyst at the Doha Institute, said he expects the Syrian government to focus its attacks on the Damascus suburbs after the fall of Aleppo.

“I think the regime will turn next to targeting the Damascus suburbs,” he told Al Jazeera. “Idlib is becoming a point of exile for fighters … I think it will remain like this till the very end [of the conflict].”

Source – Al Jazeera