Aleppo hit by air strikes and shelling as evacuation stalls

ALEPPO/BEIRUT: Plans to evacuate rebel districts of Aleppo stalled on Wednesday as more fighting rocked the city and insurgents appeared to have rejected new conditions imposed on the deal by Iran.
Iran wanted the simultaneous evacuation of wounded from two villages, Foua and Kefraya, that are besieged by rebel fighters, according to rebel and UN sources.
There was no sign of that happening. Insurgents fired shells at the two villages in Idlib province west of Aleppo, causing some casualties, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
There was no immediate indication when the evacuation might take place but a pro-opposition TV station said it could now be delayed until Thursday.
A ceasefire brokered on Tuesday by Russia and Turkey was intended to end years of fighting in the city, giving the Syria the biggest victory in more than five years of war.
But air strikes, shelling and gunfire erupted and Turkey accused government forces of breaking the truce. Syrian state television said rebel shelling had killed six people.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said however that rebel resistance was likely to end in the next two or three days.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan will discuss Aleppo later, the Kremlin was quoted as saying.
Officials in the military alliance backing Assad could not be reached immediately for comment on why the evacuation, expected to start in the early hours of Wednesday, had stalled.
Nobody had left by dawn under the plan, according to a witness waiting at the departure point, where 20 buses stood with engines running but showed no sign of moving into rebel districts.
People in eastern Aleppo packed their bags and burned personal belongings, fearing looting.
In what appeared to be a separate development from the planned evacuation, the Russian defence ministry said 6,000 civilians and 366 fighters had left rebel-held districts over the past 24 hours.
A total of 15,000 people, including 4,000 rebel fighters, wanted to leave Aleppo, according to a media unit run by the Syrian government’s ally Hizbullah.
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.
By taking full control of Aleppo, Assad has proved the power of his military coalition, aided by Russia’s air force and an array of militias from across the region.
Rebel groups have fallen far short of the direct military backing given to Assad by Russia and Iran.
“People are saying the troops have lists of families of fighters and are asking them if they had sons with the terrorists. They are then either left or shot and left to die,” said Abu Malek al Shamali in Seif al Dawla, one of the last rebel-held districts.
Terrible conditions were described by city residents. Abu Malek al Shamali, a resident in the rebel area, said dead bodies lay in the streets.
“There are many corpses in Fardous and Bustan al Qasr with no one to bury them,” he said. — Reuters

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