Bastion busted: President Assad congratulates Syrians
ALEPPO: An operation to evacuate thousands of civilians and fighters from the last rebel bastion in Aleppo began on Thursday, part of a ceasefire deal that would end years of fighting for the city and mark a major victory for Syrian President Bashar al Assad.
A convoy of ambulances and buses with nearly 1,000 people aboard drove out of the devastated rebel-held area of Aleppo, which was besieged and bombarded for months by Syrian government forces.
Women cried out in celebration as the buses passed through a government-held area, and some waved the Syrian flag. An elderly woman, who had gathered with others in a government area to watch the convoy set off, raised her hands to the sky, saying: “God save us from this crisis, and from the (militants). They brought us only destruction.”
Earlier, ambulances trying to evacuate people came under fire from fighters loyal to the Syrian government, who injured three people, a rescue service spokesman said. Rebels and their families would be taken towards Idlib, a city in northwestern Syria which is outside government control, the Russian defence ministry said.
Efforts to evacuate eastern Aleppo began earlier in the week with a truce brokered by Russia, Assad’s most powerful ally, and Turkey, which has backed the opposition.
That agreement broke down following renewed fighting on Wednesday and the evacuation did not take place then as planned.
A rebel official said a new truce came into effect early on Thursday. The evacuation plan was the culmination of two weeks of rapid advances by the Syrian army and its allies that drove insurgents back into an ever-smaller pocket of the city under intense air strikes and artillery fire.
The government and its allies have focused the bulk of their firepower on fighting rebels in western Syria rather than IS, which this week managed to take back the ancient city of Palmyra, once again illustrating the challenge Assad faces reestablishing control over all Syria. — Reuters
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