UPDATE: 05:50 a.m. EST — Aid agencies were asked to leave eastern Aleppo without any explanation, the World Health Organization said Friday.
“I assume the message [to abort the operation] came from the Russians who are monitoring the area,” WHO Representative in Syria, Elizabeth Hoff, reportedly said. She added that her team of nine staff has had no contact with Syrian authorities.
The WHO said by 12 a.m. EST Friday, 194 patients had reached eight hospitals in western Aleppo, Idlib and Turkey. Some patients were treated for chronic diseases like diabetes while some were treated for injuries sustained in the war including brain and eye damage.
UPDATE: 05:23 a.m. EST — Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested holding a national Syria peace talk in Kazakhstan while on a call with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
“Syrian forces have achieved success in allowing the Syrian people to lead their ordinary lives and return to their homes, next step is an agreement about stopping all the fighting, all the shooting,” Putin told reporters in Japan during an official visit on Friday.
UPDATE: 04:35 a.m. EST — The Syrian government suspended the evacuation of civilians and rebel fighters from eastern Aleppo on Friday, accusing the rebels of violating the terms of the evacuation deal.
The evacuation proceedings were suspended due to rebels refusing to allow the injured in two Shiite villages— Fua and Kefraya — in Idlib province to leave, a source told the Guardian. Allowing the injured in Fua and Kefraya to exit the villages was part of the ceasefire deal brokered by Russia, Syria’s ally, and Turkey. However, local media reported rebels tried to take hostages as civilians were leaving Aleppo.
Meanwhile, at least four blasts were heard at the site where buses were leaving the city, a Reuters witness said. Another report said protesters had blocked the road used by the buses carrying civilians out of Aleppo on Friday, demanding that the injured in Fua and Kefraya also be allowed to leave.
According to the U.N., at least 50,000 people, including 40,000 civilians, are still trapped in the battered city that was once Syria’s financial center.
The evacuation deal allowed civilians and rebels to leave Aleppo for the rebel-held Idlib province. The Russian Defense Ministry said nine convoys carrying 6,400 people, including 3,000 rebels and 301 injured, left eastern Aleppo in the first 24 hours of the evacuation process that began Thursday.
The evacuation of 50,000 civilians and rebels left in the battered Syrian city of Aleppo could take days, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday. The ICRC has already evacuated nearly 3,000 civilians and over 40 wounded people, including children.
The United Nations envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said at least 50,000 people including 40,000 civilians were trapped in eastern Aleppo. The U.N. is not involved in the evacuation process but had been given access to monitor the proceedings.
“There was firing before we entered East Aleppo for the first evacuation. Right up until the last minute, it wasn’t clear we’d get in. A crane was used to remove some of the debris from the street so the ambulances and buses could get through. There were burnt out cars. Smoke rising from nearby buildings. There was a lot of fear and uncertainty,” Marianne Gasser, head of the ICRC’s Syria operations, said in a statement.
“When we arrived, the scene was heart-breaking. People are faced with impossible choices. You see their eyes filled with sadness. It was very moving. No one knows how many people are left in the east, and the evacuation could take days,” she added.
Turkey’s presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Friday 7,500 people had been evacuated from Aleppo to Idlib. Ankara, which helped broker the evacuation deal, said it would be receiving some of the most vulnerable civilians.
Rebel fighters and civilians were taken to the Syrian province of Idlib, one of the last few districts under rebel control in the war-torn country and likely to be the Syrian government’s next target. While Idlib has not been subjected to airstrikes as intense as the ones Aleppo received, activists said Idlib has also been on the receiving end of several barrel and cluster bombs.
State media reported that the evacuations continued through Thursday night and Friday morning.
The Russian Defense Ministry said nine convoys carrying 6,400 people, including 3,000 rebels and 301 injured, left eastern Aleppo in the first 24 hours of the evacuation process that began Thursday. However, thousands are still waiting to leave the once rebel-controlled city. Under the terms of the evacuation deal, Syrian President Bashar Assad would regain control of Aleppo in its entirety.
In a video message, the Syrian president hailed the “liberation” of Aleppo as a milestone in the conflict.
“I want to confirm that what is happening today is history that is being written by every Syrian citizen,” Assad said. “Its writing did not start today. It started about six years ago when the crisis and the war on Syria began.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned Russia’s involvement in the conflict calling the Russian airstrikes backing pro-Assad troops, which destroyed most of the city’s hospitals, “nothing short of a massacre.”
“What has happened already in Aleppo is unconscionable,” Kerry said Thursday afternoon. “But there remains tens of thousands of lives that are now concentrated into a very small area of Aleppo, and the last thing anybody wants to see — and the world will be watching — is that that small area turns into another Srebrenica.”
Jan Egeland, special adviser to the U.N. special envoy for Syria, reportedly said: “It took 4,000 years, hundreds of generations, to build Aleppo. One generation managed to tear it down in four years. Aleppo, for 3,000 years, gave to world civilization and world civilization was not there to assist the people of Aleppo when they needed us the most.”
Tens of thousands of Syrians have been killed and nearly 11 million displaced after five and a half years of war. Part of the Arab Spring movement, the conflict began as a peaceful protest against the Syrian government but soon descended into civil war.