12/16/2016, 17.06
SYRIA
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Caritas Aleppo highlights the need for food and other aid for those who fled and those who stayed in east Aleppo

The Syrian government has suspended the evacuation accusing the rebels of firing on fleeing civilians. Caritas Director stresses the urgent need for aid, adding "the alert is at its highest". Psychological care for children and the disabled is needed. The goal is "to enter the eastern sector and help directly."

Aleppo (AsiaNews) – Families displaced from east Aleppo "are in dire need of help," many of them should be considered "refugees" and requiring "food, medicines, and basic necessities". Others "are trying to return to their homes", but they lack the means to survive, and they too “should be provided immediate assistance," said George Antoine Kahal, director of Caritas Aleppo, which has played a leading role in helping civilians fleeing the violence.

"The government has taken control of the city,” the Christian activist told AsiaNews, and “many of the rebels fled east from Aleppo, taking refuge in the surrounding countryside and across the border in Turkey. The members of the al Nusra Front, however, have turned toward Idlib." Now Caritas plans to enter the eastern sector and help directly the families and elderly still left.

Thousands of fighters and civilians, many of them traumatised, left in the last few hours taking advantage of the fragile truce that held overnight. The evacuation plan that started yesterday was supposed to continue unhindered, until completion.

However, the government suspended the operation, accusing the rebels of violating the terms of the agreement. Militias hampered the departure of civilians and opened fire on the vehicles set to take them out.

Local sources said that buses and ambulances have travelled back and forth all night, taking many of those trapped in the last section of the city still in rebel hands. Some residents left the area by their own means.

Most of the displaced – and combatants – are being directed to the neighbouring province of Idlib, which is held by a rebel alliance that includes the Jihadi group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.

The UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura warned that evacuees could face more violence in Idlib. "If there is no political agreement and a ceasefire, Idlib will become the next Aleppo," he said.

Before the war, Aleppo was Syria’s second most important city of Syria, as well as its economic and commercial hub. Since 2012 it has been divided into two sectors. The western, home to 1.2 million people, has remained under government control; the eastern, with about 250,000 people, was held until recently by rebel and jihadist groups.

In less than a month, an offensive by government forces, supported by Russian air strikes and Iranian and Hezbollah ground troops, crushed rebel resistance and placed the city under government control.

Yesterday, Syrian President Bashar al Assad welcomed the news of the city’s total "liberation", after years of fighting. State media reported that the rebels, before leaving the area, blew up ammunition depots and destroyed documents.

Whilst military operations can now be considered over, the humanitarian situation is of the utmost emergency'.

"We are working on plans to help the most vulnerable and affected families,” Aleppo Caritas director said. “We are facing a cold winter and the alert is at its highest."

"We want to do something for these families,” he added, “which is why we are in contact with other NGOs and organisations, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees."

The goal is to "take on first hand an area in east Aleppo" to provide residents with "food, medicines, and basic necessities.” This means “doing what others don’t do, like offering psychological support to war victims, above all children, and taking charge of disabled children that no one is caring for."

Families fleeing the eastern sector are Muslim, but "are happy about our help and appreciate our work."

In the last four years, "Caritas has helped several refugee families, fleeing east Aleppo. Now our goal is to enter the eastern sector and directly help in their homes and in their neighbourhoods the families who stayed behind and those who have already gone back."

Asked about the violence reported by Western media and NGOs close to the opposition and the rebels, Kahal says he does not believe "the rumours of massacres of civilians", although there were episodes of violence against the population.

"In general, families are happier to come under the government. In the last six months of fighting and siege they had no food or medicines, which rebel militias and Jihadi groups often seized."

“From the recent stories I heard from fleeing families we helped, the worst group is the al Nusra Front,” the Caritas director said. “It was hated by everyone, even if hostility towards all rebel groups was widespread."

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