BEIRUT – The evacuation of civilians and fighters from the last rebel-held territory in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo was halted on Friday amid reports of renewed violence, NGOs in the area said.
The World Health Organization and the international committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), charged with supervising the evacuation operation from eastern Aleppo, were forced to abandon the area.
“Regretfully, the operation was put on hold. We urge the parties to ensure it can be relaunched & proceed in the right conditions,” said Robert Mardini, regional director of the ICRC in the Middle East, on Twitter.
Some 8,000 fighters and civilians, including the sick and wounded, had been evacuated since the ceasefire was agreed to by the warring parties early on Thursday.
Syrian State TV accused rebel forces of breaking the ceasefire agreement and claimed “terrorists” had opened fire and taken hostages in the area where aid convoys were operating.
The broadcaster added that rebel factions had not fulfilled an agreement to allow the evacuation of Kafarya and Fuah, two pro-government majority Shiite towns besieged by Islamist opposition in neighboring Idlib province.
State TV said roads leading to the isolated towns had been blocked by fighters from the Nusra Front (recently re-branded as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham in an attempt to shake off its al-Qaida roots).
This reciprocal condition within the agreement to evacuate east Aleppo had been especially demanded by foreign Shiite militias operating in Syria on the side of President Bashar al-Assad.
Opposition forces speaking to EFE via telephone said it was these Iranian militias who were to blame for ceasefire breakdown and the halt in the evacuation.
Zakaria Malahfeji, leader of the political wing of the Aleppo-based opposition group Fastaqim Union said “the evacuation was suspended because Iranian militia snipers opened fire on the aid convoys.”
According to the rebel representative, these attacks took place near an apartment complex called the 1070 Project overlooking the al-Ramouseh humanitarian corridor leading from urban Aleppo to the western countryside that opens up into rebel-held Idlib province.
Mohamed Hassan, head councilor of Khan Touman, a town in rebel-held countryside just outside of Aleppo where the convoys were passing through, also told EFE that the attack was conducted by Iranian militias.
He said, however, that the skirmishes took place in urban Aleppo, before the convoy made it to the al-Ramouseh corridor.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a United Kingdom-based war monitor, reported that several explosions were heard in east Aleppo where the evacuation was underway.
An initial ceasefire scheduled for Wednesday also collapsed into violence just 24 hours before the evacuation procedure precariously restarted.