3,000 leave rebel Aleppo in new evacuations
An estimated 3,000 people were evacuated from the last rebel-held pocket of Syria's Aleppo early on Monday after hours of delay, a medical official said.
"About 20 buses carrying people from Aleppo have arrived" at the staging ground west of the city, said Dr Ahmad Dbis, who heads a team of doctors and volunteers coordinating evacuations. Another 25 vehicles arrived less than two hours later, he said, bringing the total evacuated this morning to around 3,000 people.
Dbis said he saw families wrapped in several layers of coats getting off the buses and receiving packs of bottled water and food. One thin young boy was biting into an apple while his family sat on the cold earth behind him.
More than 30 buses packed with people had waited overnight in freezing temperatures to leave Aleppo under a complex evacuation deal. Just 350 people were able to leave after Russia and Turkey urged the government to allow five buses to pass its final checkpoint, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.The departure of the remaining buses had reportedly been delayed until hundreds of people could be evacuated from two northwestern villages under siege by the rebels.
The Britain-based Observatory said an estimated 500 people were bussed out of Fuaa and Kafraya. "Ten buses carrying about 500 people have left Fuaa and Kafraya and are on their way to government-controlled territory in Aleppo," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
The evacuation deal for Aleppo was brokered by regime ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey, and has been overseen by the International Committee for the Red Cross.
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura estimated that as of Thursday around 40,000 civilians and perhaps as many as 5,000 opposition fighters remained in Aleppo's rebel enclave.
Evacuation of the last rebel enclaves in eastern Aleppo surrounded by Syrian forces restarted late on Sunday.
Among those to have left is seven-year-old Bana Alabed, who had tweeted about conditions in the city. A linked evacuation of government-held parts of Idlib province being besieged by rebels started early on Monday. While civilians are being moved to safety in Syria, the UN Security Council is to discuss sending monitors to oversee the mass evacuations. There are hopes that countries divided on Syria's fate will come to a rare agreement on the crisis.
Eastern Aleppo had been held by the rebels since 2012, but Syrian forces squeezed them into ever-smaller corners of the city, along with thousands of civilians, before evacuations started last week.
Initial efforts collapsed on Friday, leaving civilians stranded without access to food and shelter and with almost no medical facilities.However, the operation to move civilians to other rebel-held territory restarted late on Sunday. Turkey's foreign minister said 4,500 civilians had left eastern Aleppo since midnight on Monday, bringing the number of evacuees to 12,000.
The departure of Bana Alabed, whose home in eastern Aleppo was bombed and whose appeals for peace were heard worldwide, was confirmed by a Syrian-American aid organisation.Among the people waiting to leave eastern Aleppo are sick and wounded children, said the children's charity Unicef.
Some young children have been forced to leave without their parents, the charity said.
After leaving Aleppo city, the evacuees will then be moved to parts of Aleppo and Idlib provinces.
The evacuation of civilians from eastern Aleppo was held up partly because of the need for another deal to go ahead.
Pro-government forces had demanded that people must be allowed to leave the mainly Shia villages of Foah and Kefraya in Idlib province, that are being besieged by rebels.
On Sunday, armed men set fire to buses that were about to transport the sick and injured from the villages.
But Syrian state TV and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said early on Monday that 10 buses had now left the villages. The Observatory said 500 of the 4,000 villagers had left.