Aleppo evacuation deal ‘to resume’ after setbacks

Deal reached to resume evacuations of tens of thousands of trapped people, Syrian rebel official tells Al Jazeera.

Rebel fighters and civilians gather as they wait to be evacuated from a rebel-held sector of eastern Aleppo
Rebel fighters and civilians hope to be evacuated to Idlib as part of a ceasefire agreement [Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters]

A new ceasefire deal to evacuate tens of thousands of Syrian opposition fighters and civilians from the remaining rebel-held pockets of eastern Aleppo has been reached, according to a rebel group official.

The rebel official told Al Jazeera on Saturday that the deal would allow for the complete evacuation of the embattled enclaves still held by rebel groups.

Speaking to the Reuters news agency, a Syrian government source confirmed the agreement. 

Saturday’s announcement came after previous agreements brokered by Turkey and Russia fell apart, with the Syrian government and opposition groups exchanging blame. 

In addition to eastern Aleppo, the deal will allow for the transfer of civilians from the rebel-besieged towns of Kafraya and Fua, as well as the government-blockaded towns of Madaya and Zabadani. 

A day earlier, Syrian state media said more than 8,000 people had been evacuated from the besieged territory when the agreement was suspended. 

The deal would have allowed for the remaining population of rebel-held neighbourhoods to be transferred through government-controlled territory to the city of Idlib, where Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as the al-Nusra Front, which was linked to al-Qaeda) and rebel groups control most of the territory. 

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The Syrian government accused rebel groups of breaching the terms of the agreement, saying they tried to smuggle out fighters and heavy weapons. 

The rebels were also accused of failing to honour a condition that stipulated they should allow for the evacuation of thousands of civilians from Kafraya and Al-Fua, both Shia Muslim towns besieged by rebel groups in the Idlib province. 

Journalist Zouhir Al Shimale was among about a thousand civilians detained by pro-government militias on Friday night when their convoy was stopped as the ceasefire collapsed. 

Witnesses told Al Jazeera that government forces had killed at least four people who were part of the convoy. 

Will Aleppo evacuees be safe in Idlib?

Tens of thousands of people were still trapped inside opposition-controlled areas and were too scared to leave their besieged districts, Al Jazeera’s Amro Halabi reported from eastern Aleppo.

“Now, the people are afraid and they are running away from the meeting point where they were supposed to gather in order to take the buses out of the besieged east Aleppo districts, they are in a state of horror and shock,” he said.

Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city and once a key cultural and economic hub, has been divided between government forces and rebels since 2012.

The evacuation agreements came a month after the Syrian government and allied militias launched a military offensive to retake the entire city. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has hailed the operation as a victory. 

The Syrian conflict started as a largely unarmed uprising against Assad’s rule in March 2011. It has since morphed into a full-scale civil war that has left hundreds of thousands dead and more than half of the country’s prewar population displaced inside and outside of Syria. 

Source: Al Jazeera