Syrian government opens new Aleppo corridor for evacuation
The Syrian government on Friday opened a new corridor for rebels and civilians, who want to leave the besieged eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, but the UN said medical evacuations have not started as planned because of the lack of security assurances from the warring sides.
The evacuations, part of a Russia-announced pause in fighting, were announced a day earlier with great hopes by UN officials.
Spokesman for the UN’s humanitarian aid agency Jens Laerke described an “astronomically difficult situation,” but he declined to specify who was responsible for the breakdown in the plans on Friday.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Laerke said the evacuations could not begin “because the necessary conditions were not in place to ensure safe, secure and voluntary’’ movement of people.
On Thursday, UN humanitarian aid official Jan Egeland said the UN had received the “green lights” for the evacuations from Syria’s government, armed opposition groups and Russia, which announced a pause in fighting in rebel-held eastern Aleppo.
Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said al-Qaida-linked militants in Aleppo were refusing to leave the city along the corridors created by the Russian and Syrian forces. He said Russia was “seriously concerned that, despite the gestures of goodwill from Moscow and Damascus,” the fighters from the al-Qaida affiliate previously known as the Nusra Front were “refusing to leave the city.’”
Aleppo’s civilians are also being prevented from leaving the eastern, rebel-held part of the city through the corridors, Lavrov added.
The pan-Arab Al-Mayadeen TV aired live footage from the Castello Road, showing bulldozers that had opened the road. Buses and ambulances were parked by the roadside, waiting to take evacuees. But residents in eastern Aleppo have said many won’t take advantage of the corridors because there are no guarantees that the evacuees won’t be arrested by government forces. By midday, no evacuation was noticed along the Aleppo corridor.
“No one has left the city so far,’’ said Mohammed Abu Rajab, who works at an eastern Aleppo hospital that was repeatedly hit over the past weeks, knocking it out of service. “People are worried they might be detained. There are no guarantees,” he added.
He said any evacuation should be coordinated with the UN in order for people to feel they can leave safely.
The pause in Aleppo fighting was announced by Russia to allow for the evacuation of civilians and fighters, as well as the wounded. Rebels have rejected the offer, saying it isn’t serious. Before the pause, Aleppo’s besieged districts were subjected to relentless Syrian and Russian airstrikes for weeks.
UN rights chief likens Aleppo to ‘slaughterhouse’
The UN human rights chief, meanwhile, said Aleppo was “a slaughterhouse” and urged the Human Rights Council to set aside “political disagreements’’ to focus on suffering civilians.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said this in an address by videoconference to the 47-member UN-backed rights body on Friday as it opened a special session on Aleppo called by Britain and others over the crisis in the city. Zeid, a Jordanian prince, said rights violations and abuses in Syria, in rebel-held Aleppo and beyond “constitute crimes of historic proportions”.