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Latest News from Aleppo

Happy Christmas!

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9 v 6

Explosion Rocks Syria’s Aleppo as Residents Return


Syrian state TV says an explosion rocked eastern Aleppo as some residents were returning to their homes after the government assumed full control of the city earlier this week.

It says the explosion on Saturday was caused by a device left inside a school by Syrian rebels, who withdrew from their last remaining enclave under a cease-fire deal after more than four years of fighting.

A correspondent for Lebanon’s Hezbollah-run Al-Manar TV was reporting live from the area when the blast sounded in the background, sending a huge cloud of dust into the air. The correspondent later said that at least three people were killed.

The rebel pullout from Aleppo, which was completed on Thursday, marks President Bashar Assad’s greatest victory since the conflict began in 2011.

Turning Point in Syria as Assad Regains All of Aleppo

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The evacuation of civilians and fighters from the last rebel-held part of Aleppo concluded on Thursday after long delays because of frigid weather, putting all of Syria’s industrial capital back in the hands of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces for the first time since 2012.

The last buses carrying residents from eastern Aleppo left the city late Thursday night, according to the Syrian state news agency.

Tens of thousands of people have been removed from eastern Aleppo since Dec. 15. Before the last buses left on Thursday, the Red Cross said that 34,000 people had left the city, including 4,000 fighters who had left in their own vehicles the previous night.

A separate convoy was waiting to carry residents out of two pro-government villages in neighboring Idlib Province that have been surrounded by rebels for years. It was unclear late Thursday whether the convoy had completed its trip.

The seizure of all of Aleppo by Mr. Assad and his allies signals a turning point in the nearly six-year conflict.

Mr. Assad’s army relied heavily on foreign military support from Russia, Iran and Shiite militias like Lebanon’s Hezbollah to surround the rebel-held area. Months of shelling and airstrikes that killed hundreds of people and reduced entire neighborhoods to rubble finally routed the rebels and pushed the area’s inhabitants to leave under an agreement brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran.

Throughout the conflict, Mr. Assad has characterized the rebels seeking his ouster as foreign-backed terrorists, and he hailed the retaking of Aleppo on Thursday as a blow to those forces. He also thanked the international backers who helped.

Tens of thousands of people have been removed from eastern Aleppo since Dec. 15. Credit Baraa Al-Halabi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Image

“Liberating Aleppo from terrorism is a victory not only for Syria, but also for those who really contributed to the fight against terrorism, especially Iran and Russia,” Mr. Assad said at a meeting with a visiting Iranian delegation, according to the Syrian state news service, SANA.

Many in the government-held western part of Aleppo also celebrated the routing of the city’s rebels, who often fired improvised rockets at their neighborhoods, flooding hospitals with the dead and wounded. And as hundreds gathered on Tuesday to see the lighting of a Christmas tree, a bomb exploded in western Aleppo, wounding no one but sending residents fleeing.

The evacuation was bitter for residents of the other half of the city, both rebel fighters seeking to topple Mr. Assad and the civilians who left their homes, unsure of when — if ever — they would return.

Residents reached by phone and messaging apps after arriving in rebel-held areas described cold, disorderly conditions where many were struggling to find shelter.

“People went from one hell to another,” said Abdul-Nasser Nadaf, a rebel fighter who had left eastern Aleppo for Idlib Province. “We are all tired, and the displacement was really tough. The snow and cold made things worse.”

Many people there had left their belongings behind and had arrived with no money, he said.

The ordeal had changed his thinking about the rebel movement, and he criticized its commanders for the infighting that had long sapped their movement and for the Islamist agenda that some had adopted.

“I might stop fighting. I lost the motivation,” Mr. Nadaf said. “The goals changed — the situation on the ground changed.”

An ailing civilian was loaded onto a bus by members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent on the eastern outskirts of Aleppo. Credit George Ourfalian/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Under the agreement, civilians removed from eastern Aleppo could remain in government-controlled areas or continue on to rebel-held areas elsewhere. Most have ended up in Idlib, which already held many people displaced from elsewhere in Syria, raising concerns about the humanitarian situation there.

The evacuated fighters were allowed to keep light arms and had to go to other rebel-held areas.

Aid workers fear that because of the concentration of rebel fighters in Idlib, it is only a matter of time before the government and its allies attack there, endangering civilians.

Almost all of the province is held by rebel groups, including the Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda and other extreme Islamist groups.

Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations envoy to Syria, said on Thursday that only a deal to end the war could prevent a repeat of the carnage in Aleppo and protect the displaced.

“Many of them have gone to Idlib, which could be in theory the next Aleppo,” Mr. de Mistura told reporters in Geneva.

But the prospect of such a deal remained unclear.

While the victory in Aleppo will bolster the morale of Mr. Assad’s troops, he is widely seen as lacking enough military capacity to both hold his ground and seize other territory held by rebels and by the jihadists of the Islamic State.

This week, Russia and Iran, which support Mr. Assad, and Turkey, which has supported the rebels, met in Moscow and agreed to a framework for ending the conflict. Officials from the United States, the United Nations and the Syrian government were not included in the talks.

For his part, Mr. de Mistura has announced a new round of United Nations-backed peace talks in Geneva in February.


Source: The New York Times

Hundreds of children evacuated from East Aleppo are arriving alone, Unicef says


A girl rides a bus to be evacuated from a rebel-held sector of eastern Aleppo, Syria, on December 18, 2016. ABDALRHMAN ISMAIL/REUTERS

Through rain and snow the buses are still snaking into East Aleppo to evacuate people from rebel-held areas.

Footage, shot by Unicef staff on December 3, shows some arriving at a shelter in the government-controlled town of Jibreen. It shows families being unloaded from trucks, people milling around the dusty compound, and others sleeping on mats and sacks of possessions.

Unicef communications specialist Shushan Mebrahtu is in touch with her colleagues there on a daily basis.

Speaking from Damascus on Thursday morning (local time) Mebrahtu said the process was ongoing. Owing to limited access to besieged neighbourhoods there was no way of knowing how many more people were to be evacuated.

Winter conditions are sweeping through the Middle East and last night’s buses were travelling through snow, she said. People had been waiting for days on the front lines, freezing. Children arriving at shelters were weak and in need of medical attention. Many had been separated from their families.

Men walk near damage inside Aleppo’s Umayyad mosque, Syria, on December 13, 2016. OMAR SANADIKI/REUTERS

“There are many hundreds of children who have arrived alone,” she said.

Yesterday, a colleague spoke of one young girl, aged around two, who had been plucked from a pile of rubble by a stranger on their way out of the conflict zone.

“This is a lucky girl – someone found her and brought her to the shelter. We are now trying ot reunify her with a caregiver.”

A man with a baby rides a bus to be evacuated from a rebel-held sector of eastern Aleppo, Syria, on December 18, 2016. ABDALRHMAN ISMAIL/REUTERS

Unicef and partners were responding with life-saving assistance by trucking safe water to families, immunising children, providing primary health care, screening and treating malnutrition in children, as well as providing psychosocial support and mine risk education.

Many of the children have lost years of education, Mebrahtu said. “We have started what we call accelerated learning programmes to help them catch up, so they can eventually reintegrate into schooling.”



Syria conflict: Aleppo evacuations resume after 24-hour delay

Snow fell in Aleppo on Wednesday as temperatures remained below freezing

The final phase of the evacuation of rebel-held eastern districts of the Syrian city of Aleppo has restarted, after being stalled for a day.

Syrian state TV broadcast pictures of buses leaving the rebel enclave and entering a government-controlled area.

A UN official also told Reuters news agency that the evacuation had resumed.

Activists said 60 buses were stuck in the rebel enclave overnight, forcing 3,000 people to wait in freezing weather with little to eat or drink.

Reasons for the hold-up were not clear. But state media blamed rebels in neighbouring Idlib province, accusing them of preventing the simultaneous evacuation of two pro-government Shia towns there.

After waiting more than a day, the first five buses in the convoy left the rebel enclave and crossed into government-held Ramousseh on Wednesday afternoon.

The fighting has left Aleppo’s Great or Umayyad Mosque almost in ruins

The official Sana news agency said they were heading to the countryside west of Aleppo under the supervision of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

At the same time, four buses and two ambulances carrying wounded and sick people had been allowed to leave the two towns in Idlib besieged by rebel forces, Foah and Kefraya, it added.

Sana also cited its sources as saying that 21 bus drivers had been freed after being “held by terrorists” while on their way to the towns on Tuesday evening.

Snow fell in Aleppo on Wednesday as temperatures remained below freezing

There was no immediate comment from rebel officials. However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that monitors the civil war, did report earlier that 21 buses had been unable to enter Foah and Kefraya.

It is not clear how many civilians and rebel fighters are still inside the rebel enclave.

The UN estimated last Thursday that there were 50,000 people there.

On Tuesday, the ICRC said 25,000 people had been evacuated since the operation began a week ago, but the Syrian Observatory said the total was closer to 17,000.

If this is the last convoy to leave Aleppo, Wednesday could be the day the whole of the city returns to government control, says the BBC’s James Longman in Beirut.

Most people from Aleppo are being transported to rebel-held Idlib province

The Syrian army seems determined to clear the rebel enclave, he adds, and has been broadcasting announcements via loudspeaker, calling on the last fighters to leave before soldiers arrive.

But a spokesman for the Fastaqim rebel group, Ward Furati, told the Associated Press they “won’t leave until security of all the civilians has been fully guaranteed”.

Aleppo was once Syria’s largest city, and its commercial and industrial hub before the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011.

Aleppo was once Syria’s largest city, and its commercial and industrial hub

For much of the past four years it was divided roughly in two, with the government controlling the western half and rebels the east.

Troops finally broke the deadlock this year with the help of Iranian-backed militias and Russian air strikes, reinstating a siege on the east in early September.

After breaking through the rebels’ defensive lines in mid-November, they quickly advanced and had seized all but 2.6 sq km (1 sq mile) by the time a ceasefire was brokered by Russia and Turkey, which backs the opposition to Mr Assad.

Source:BBC News