Evacuation halts in Aleppo. For rebels, it is the deal or death
About 6,000 rebels and civilians left the last rebel-held part of the city. However, the evacuation is halted by shootings and violations of the deal. Moscow and Ankara want to shift peace talks from Geneva to Astana, moving the Syrian crisis from the heart of Europe to the heart of Asia.
Aleppo (AsiaNews) – The evacuation of east Aleppo has come to a halt after reports of shooting.
Syrian authorities and rebels accuse each other of failing to respect the deal to allow civilians and rebels to leave the city. The rebels accuse government soldiers of firing on buses taking out civilians. The Syrian military has accused the rebels of trying to smuggle captives and heavy weapons out with them as they left the city.
Since Thursday, at least 6,000 civilians and rebels, including at least 2,700 children, are said to have left northern Syria’s largest city, after troops loyal to President Bashar al Assad recaptured most of it.
For its part, the international community has been trying to find a solution to the crisis. France has called on the UN Security Council to ensure the operation is co-ordinated by international observers, with humanitarian aid allowed into the city and hospitals given protection.
Thursday’s deal to evacuate the remaining fighters from the city’s last rebel-held pocket (1 per cent of the city) collapsed yesterday when rebels violated its terms.
At the Ramouse roadblock, south of Aleppo, rocket and sniper fire hit buses on their way to two government-held towns, al Fu‘ah and Kafarya, in Idlib Governorate, both under rebel siege, to evacuate civilians, sick and wounded people and the elderly.
The same happened at a crossing near As Suqaylabiyah, in the north-western part of Hama Governorate. Shooting prevented the vehicles from completing their mission, as had been agreed.
Red Crescent ambulances set to evacuate the seriously injured from the two government-held towns besieged by rebels in Idlib were stopped at rebel checkpoints in Tall Baklo and Qalaat al-Madiq, Hama Governorate.
Scores of rebel rockets were also launched against Aleppo’s liberated districts.
In reaction, refugees from al Fu‘ah and Kafarya blocked the road near Ramouse, effectively stopping rebel evacuation from Syria’s former economic and commercial hub.
Rebels also appear to have violated two other aspects of the deal brokered by Russia and Turkey, namely the ban on taking captives and heavy weapons and radio equipment.
Loud explosions were heard overnight on Thursday into Friday, and columns of thick smoke were seen rising from the Jihadi holdout.
According to several sources, rebels burnt compromising documents, such as those that might show their involvement in various forms of trafficking, including organs, and destroyed their more sophisticated weapons, including “unconventional” ones, to prevent them from falling into the hands of government.
During the two days of evacuation, some 9,500 rebel fighters and their families were brought out. Rebel combatants from Aleppo fighting with the Nur el Din El Zenki group chose instead to lay down their weapons and surrender to government forces.
Earlier, Turkmen fighters from the same group had left the area for the area that Turkish forces had invaded in northern Syria.
Syria’s regular army said that its patience had run out and told the fighters that it would enforce the agreement in all its points. If this failed, it would easily proceed to liberate what is left in rebel hands in the coming hours. Any rebel found would be taken prisoner. This leaves rebels with only three alternatives: evacuation as agreed, surrender or death.
Meanwhile, fighters who left Aleppo arrived in Idlib full of despair and disillusionment. “We are women, not men,” said one, crying and proffering insults against traitors and allies who promised support till victory, but then abandoned them.
In Idlib, evacuees were met by Turkish Red Crescent officials and soldiers who then transferred many of them to Turkish territory, an indication of Turkey’s questionable role and close ties to armed Jihadi groups fighting in Syria.
In liberated Aleppo, the horrible signs left by Islamic terrorists are still visible, including desecrated and looted shrines and vandalised tombs.
"They did not even leave the dead in peace,” said one Syrian civilian, who thanked the government and Russia on state TV for liberating the city from "hell on earth".
Aleppo’s liberation now raises the question of a political solution and peace talks between the opposition and the Syrian government.
Taking advantage of the ongoing power transition in the United States, Russia and Turkey decided to move talks from Geneva to Astana, capital of Kazakhstan.
Astana owes its name to Istanbul, ex Constantinople, i.e. the capital of the Ottoman Empire and the Caliphate, something that might please Jihadis as well as neo-Ottomanist Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The city also represents a bridge to Russia, which wants to move the Syrian crisis from the heart of Europe to the heart of Asia, in one of the former Soviet Union’s Turkic republics. (PB)