BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria where a cease-fire deal to allow evacuation of rebels and tens of thousands of civilians from eastern Aleppo is back on (all times local):
A U.N. humanitarian aid coordinator for Syria says the United Nations has been locked out of an evacuation plan for the embattled eastern Aleppo and pro-government forces have blocked some aid vehicles from entering the rebel enclave in the city.
Jan Egeland of the U.N. Syria envoy’s office says an estimated 50,000 people have fled eastern Aleppo, where rebel fighters have increasingly lost control, and are now in contact with U.N. personnel and their partners.
Egeland told reporters that Russian envoys at a U.N.-backed humanitarian task force meeting for Syria in Geneva on Thursday pledged that “no harm will meet these who are evacuated.”
He says the “three-pronged” evacuation for those wounded, the vulnerable and opposition fighters was worked out by “parties” on the ground, and that the U.N. was “only invited this morning to monitor.”
A convoy of ambulances with wounded civilians has started to leave the last rebel-held part of eastern Aleppo.
It’s the first evacuations under a cease-fire deal this week meant to allow the pullout from the rebel enclave and the surrender of the territory to Syrian government control in the face of a devastating ground and air offensive by government forces.
Syrian state TV is showing live footage of a long convoy of ambulances and green buses driving out and crossing the Ramouseh bridge en route through government territory and into a rural, rebel-held part of Aleppo province on Thursday.
Ingy Sedky, Damascus spokeswoman for the ICRC, told The Associated Press that 13 ambulances and 20 buses left in the convoy.
The civilian and rebel pullout will mark the end of the rebels’ four-year control of eastern Aleppo.
Syria state TV says 29 buses and ambulances are heading to two Shiite villages besieged by rebels to evacuate the sick and other in need there.
The evacuations, which were announced on Thursday, appear to be part of the deal to pull out the last civilians and rebels from the sliver of territory in eastern Aleppo that remains of the once rebel enclave.
The Turkey-Russia cease-fire crumbled amid fighting that erupted on Wednesday. The Syrian government’s allies also demanded that he sick and other humanitarian cases in the besieged villages in northern Idlib province be allowed to leave.
State TV quoted Syrian Hama provincial governor Mohammed al-Hazouri as saying the vehicels, ambulances and medical teams are heading to Foua and Kfraya to evacuate some families and critical cases.
Syrian activists say residents in eastern Aleppo are starting to board buses and ambulances, the first step in an evacuation that is part of the rebel enclave’s effective surrender.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group says ambulances and municipal buses crossed from the government territory and arrived shortly after noon on Thursday in the last rebel area in Aleppo.
Syrian state TV has broadcast footage showing a convoy of green-colored municipal buses rumbling toward the agreed-on evacuation point inside the opposition-held area.
The spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Ingy Sedky said their staff has arrived with Syrian Arab Red Crescent ambulances and workers to evacuate the wounded. The ICRC says it’s preparing to evacuate 200 wounded people, some in critical condition.
A Palestinian-born Danish volunteer helping out with evacuations in rebel-held parts of Aleppo says he is part of a six-vehicle ambulance convoy that will head to a nearby hospital with “about 2,000 of those wounded.”
Khalid Alsubeihi spoke to Denmark’s TV2 channel on Thursday from the besieged city where the pullout of rebels and civilians from the eastern enclave is expected to start later in the day.
Alsubeihi says the convoy “will be one of the first groups that are being evacuated” and expressed hope that everything will go smoothly and that the Syrian government and the Russians will abide by their pledges “this time.”
Syrian activists say pro-government forces have shot at ambulances trying to leave eastern Aleppo, wounding at least 3 evacuees.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the ambulances were still in opposition territory when they came under small-arms fire from the government side on Thursday. It says three people were wounded.
Local hospital director and opposition activist Hamza Khatib says no ambulances or buses have been able to leave eastern Aleppo yet.
The Syrian Civil Defense responders posted on social media that two of its members were wounded when government forces fired on ambulances leaving the opposition’s remaining sliver of land in Aleppo.
The activist-run group says they were evacuating wounded civilians and rebels as part of an agreement to return the city to government control. The group says one person died and two were wounded but the fatality could not immediately be confirmed.
A Pan-Arab TV station is broadcasting live from a crossing point in eastern Aleppo, where ambulances are on hand to evacuate the wounded and sick Syrians out of remaining rebel area of the city.
The Al-Mayadeen TV footage shows the Ramouseh crossing point on the southern edge of the rebel enclave and ambulances belonging to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent parked and waiting on Thursday. A green-colored government bus is also seen in the footage.
The evacuation is part of an agreement between rebels and the Syrian government for the pullout from opposition-held neighborhoods of fighters and civilians in what is effectively Aleppo’s surrender to the government.
The rebels have held to the eastern part of the city for four years but their enclave rapidly evaporated in the past days in the face of a fierce Syrian government onslaught.
The Russian military says it’s preparing for the rebels’ withdrawal from Aleppo.
The military’s Center for Reconciliation in Syria says that 20 buses and 10 ambulances are prepared to carry the rebels to Idlib on Thursday.
The center says it’s preparing for the rebels’ exit together with the Syrian government. It says Syrian authorities have given security guarantees to all rebels willing to leave Aleppo.
The Russian military also says it’s monitoring the situation using drones.
A previous attempt to arrange a rebel withdrawal failed Wednesday when a cease-fire deal between the rebels and the Syrian government collapsed, with the government and the rebels blaming each other for its failure.
A Syrian army official confirms that all is ready for rebels and civilians to start leaving Aleppo “at any moment.”
The army official, who spoke by telephone to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said all preparations are ready for the operation to begin on Thursday.
His comments came after the cease-fire deal, mediated by Ankara and Moscow, unraveled amid fighting the previous day.
An opposition monitoring group says the operation has already begun but that could not immediately be independently confirmed. —Bassem Mroue in Beirut
The media arm of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group says overnight negotiations have reinforced a cease-fire deal to allow Syrian rebels and tens of thousands of civilians to leave the besieged eastern city of Aleppo.
It says Syrian rebels will likely begin leaving their last holdout in Aleppo “in the coming hours.”
Thursday’s announcement by Hezbollah’s Military Media came after the cease-fire deal, mediated by Ankara and Moscow, unraveled amid fighting the previous day. Shiite Hezbollah militiamen are fighting in the Syrian civil war on the side of President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Damascus and its allies have not commented on the cease-fire being back on. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the fighting stopped in the city around 4 a.m.