Nearly 150 civilians, many disabled or sick, were evacuated overnight from a health facility in Aleppo’s Old City after the army retook the area, the Red Cross said. The bodies of 11 persons who died at the facility after being caught in the crossfire or failing to receive medication were also retrieved, the humanitarian organisation said.
Syria’s army has recaptured around 80 per cent of the former rebel bastion of east Aleppo since beginning an assault three weeks ago, and tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced. The International Committee of the Red Cross said it carried out an operation overnight with Syria’s Red Crescent to evacuate 150 patients and civilians from the Dar al-Safaa facility in the Old City.
“These patients and civilians had been trapped in the area for days because of heavy clashes nearby and as the front line kept drawing closer,” said ICRC Syria delegation head Marianne Gasser. The two organisations had been trying to evacuate the facility since, but were forced to postpone initial efforts because of heavy fighting.
Syrian army has suspended combat operations in eastern Aleppo to allow the civilians to evacuate the battle zone, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. About 8,000 people would be moved to safer places as Syrian forces have retaken 75 per cent of east Aleppo -- areas rebels had controlled for four years - in recent weeks.
According to BBC, while fighting in Aleppo has eased, there is no sign it has completely stopped. The US welcomed the “indication that something positive could happen but we’re going to have to wait and see whether those statements are reflected on the ground.”Our approach to the situation has been to listen carefully to what the Russians say, but scrutinise their actions,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
Lavrov said, “Combat operations by the Syrian army have been halted in eastern Aleppo because there is a large operation under way to evacuate the civilians.” He said Russian and US military experts would meet in Geneva on Saturday to discuss ways of bringing an end to the violence in Aleppo.
A US state department spokeswoman said Lavrov and John Kerry had agreed to discuss a ceasefire that allows for the delivery of aid and the departure of civilians, but the “specific nature of technical talks is still to be worked out”. Russia’s announcement comes at a time when tens of thousands of civilians have already been fleeing the fighting on their own, using whatever route they can.
News that the Syrian military has suspended operations to allow for a more orderly evacuation would be a good one for tens of thousands of people still trapped inside rebel-held districts.
This week rebel fighters called for a truce to allow civilians to leave the battlefield. But both sides suspect the other will use any pause to regroup for another round of fighting. Earlier, a local council leader in Aleppo warned that ‘150,000 people are condemned to death’ in the city.
“We demand a safe passage for civilians to leave and an end to the killing, bombing and bloodbath,” he said.
Late on Wednesday, 148 mostly disabled and elderly civilians were evacuated from a former old people’s home; hours after the area fell to government forces. The UN’s envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told the media that he was planning to meet members of US President-elect Donald Trump’s team, though he did not say when.
Aleppo was once Syria’s largest city and its commercial and industrial hub before the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011. But in the past year, Syrian troops have broken the deadlock with the help of Iranian-backed militias and Russian air strikes, reinstating a siege in early September.