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Gunmen in Aleppo, Firing at Ambulances, Stall Latest Evacuation Effort

Thousands of people had gathered outside a hospital in the Mashhad neighborhood, which is still controlled by rebels, hoping that an evacuation deal announced on Tuesday by Turkey, Russia and Syrian rebels would hold. But the constant threat from snipers, bombs and shelling was unsettling.

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Aleppo Activists Say Final Goodbyes as Assad Closes In

Syrian government forces had reclaimed most of rebel-held eastern Aleppo by Tuesday, in a fierce battle. Activists and civilians in the last opposition-controlled areas posted videos describing their fear.


By YARA BISHARA and MEGAN SPECIA on Publish Date December 13, 2016.


Photo by George Ourfalian/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.

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“Even the civil defense got wounded,” said Maan al-Shanan, an activist in Aleppo. “Who would dare to leave?”

There were “people, women, children waiting anxiously outside the hospital, they were moving all around, so anxious to leave,” said Dr. Salem Abou al-Nasr, a dentist who had kept his clinic open until last week, when his neighborhood was taken by government forces.

Mr. Shanan and the White Helmets said the civil defense forces had tried to clear a path for the evacuation convoy by lifting fences and clearing rubble, but that forces allied with the government had opened fire on them.

Earlier, the Russian Defense Ministry had said it would use drones to monitor the evacuation of rebels and their families on 20 buses, accompanied by 10 ambulances tasked with leading them through a humanitarian corridor, Reuters reported. But that was before shots were fired at the ambulances.

Jan Egeland, the United Nations humanitarian adviser for Syria, said on Thursday that he was hopeful about the evacuation of thousands of civilians from eastern Aleppo, but that Russia’s request for United Nations involvement had come late.

“We are now receiving information from the Russians that they would indeed want us to participate in the evacuation,” Mr. Egeland told Reuters. “But confirmation only seems to come now, this morning, which is very late, because it is already ongoing and there have already been security incidences.”

One Man’s View Into the Last Days in Rebel-Held Aleppo


Families, medical workers, insurgent fighters and wounded people were packed and ready to vacate the ravaged rebel-held neighborhoods of Aleppo under the deal between Russia and Turkey. Then the resumed booms of incoming artillery shells from pro-government forces sent them into hiding or running for their lives.

It was the latest life-or-death whiplash for the thousands trapped in the ruins of a once-vibrant northern metropolis, which has come to symbolize the atrocities unfolding in the nearly six-year-old war.

Under the deal, — the remaining fighters in Aleppo were to leave for rebel-held territory farther north, and civilians were free to join them or move to government-held areas.

That outcome would leave the whole city in the hands of forces loyal to the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, denounced the resumed shelling, calling it a probable war crime.

“The way this deal was dangled in front of this battered and beleaguered population — causing them to hope they might indeed live to see another day — and then snatched away just half a day later is also outrageously cruel,” Mr. al-Hussein said in a statement.

Video

A Risky Flight From Eastern Aleppo

The civilians of opposition-held eastern Aleppo are fleeing by the thousands after days of near constant bombardment by Syrian and Russian forces. Their flight to areas of humanitarian aid is a risky one.


By MEGAN SPECIA and YARA BISHARA on Publish Date December 1, 2016.


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“The Syrian government has a clear responsibility to ensure its people are safe, and is palpably failing to take this opportunity to do so,” he said.

As each side blamed the other for the deal’s collapse, civilians inside the city issued anguished, angry pleas for international pressure to reinstate it. The Assad government and Iran, Syria’s main ally, besides Russia, appeared not to have been fully consulted on the deal, according to international officials and others briefed on the talks, and were insisting on new conditions.

Rebel groups outside the city resumed shelling government-held districts in Aleppo. Civilians in other rebel-held areas to the north protested against their leaders and ransacked posts of hard-line rebel groups, demanding they help those in Aleppo.

Close to midnight Wednesday, rebel groups announced a new deal for another evacuation attempt on Thursday. Trapped civilians expressed disbelief, and the Syrian military denied that another agreement had been reached.

But by early Thursday the shelling had tapered off, residents reported, hoping the pause would hold.

As the shelling escalated Wednesday morning, a radiology nurse in Aleppo, Mohamed al-Ahmad, said he hoped the world would hear “our final scream,” adding that the wounded, with rescue and medical services in disarray, were bleeding to death in the streets.

Yasser, an accountant volunteering in a makeshift medical clinic, posted a photograph via WhatsApp of an injured girl lying on a hallway floor. She was 10, he said, with broken bones, and was crying and shouting: “Get me out of Aleppo. I am afraid, I am cold. My back is hurting me. Where is the doctor?”

What I Saw in Syria

Our reporter’s photographs and cellphone videos from a road trip in one of the world’s most violent war zones.


Yasser, who asked to be identified only by his first name for fear of being arrested for contacting journalists, said in frustration, “Let us leave — what is happening?”

Problems with the deal had been evident from the start. Soon after it was announced Tuesday night, Syrian officials said they had no knowledge of it, and there was no word from Iran.

Opposition leaders and civilians in Aleppo said they believed that Iran had balked at the deal brokered by Russia. Osama Abu Zayd, a legal adviser to Syrian opposition factions, told The Associated Press that Iran’s field commander in Syria was resisting it.

The interests of Russia and Iran do not always dovetail. Iran has a stake in retaining the influence it gained by entering the conflict on behalf of Mr. Assad two years before Russia.

Iran has trained, backed and financed the pro-government militias that have bolstered Syrian ground forces, with recruits from Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries, as well as Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group.

Yasser, the accountant, said civilians in Aleppo did not approve of rebel shelling of civilians in Fouaa and Kfarya. “We are humans,” he said. “They are not our enemies. They are civilians like us.”

Video

Aleppo: ‘It Is Your Noose’ Around Civilians

The United States ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, directed her remarks at officials of Syria, Iran and Russia on Tuesday referring to the fighting and humanitarian crisis in the Syrian city.


By REUTERS.


Photo by Amanda Voisard/The United Nations, via Associated Press.

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Troubles carrying out the accord were not surprising, as there was no international monitoring — United Nations officials said the Syrian government had refused their repeated pleas to observe — and no enforcement provision. The same problems have vexed other deals reached during the conflict.

Malek, an activist who said he hoped to join his pregnant wife in northern Aleppo Province, and who asked to be identified only by his first name for fear of retaliation, said the world saw civilians in rebel-held territory as “no longer human.”

“They think we are Daesh,” he said via WhatsApp, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, the militant group that has established a so-called caliphate in parts of Syria but not in Aleppo.

Using a mournful expression, he added, “we didn’t taste the flavor of life.”

Later, Dr. Nasr, the dentist, posted a video on Facebook calling for global powers to intervene to push through a deal.

“The situation can’t wait,” he said. “Everyone should know, we, the people here, we love life and want to live.”

The evacuation plan came after two weeks of rapid advances by the Syrian Army and its allies, who drove insurgents into an ever-smaller pocket of eastern Aleppo, with support from heavy airstrikes and artillery fire.

Rebel groups have received support from Turkey, the United States and Persian Gulf states, but far less than the direct military aid that Iran and Russia have provided to Mr. Assad.

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