Evacuations from the last rebel-held pocket of Aleppo resumed on Wednesday despite heavy snowfall, clearing a path for Syria’s army to take full control of the devastated city. The evacuations — which have seen thousands withdraw from the one-time opposition stronghold of east Aleppo — faced delays earlier on Wednesday, leaving hundreds hungry and cold waiting to escape. But Syrian state television reported that after a 24-hour delay, 20 buses carrying “armed men and their families” had left for rebel territory to the west of the city. Ahmad al-Dbis, who heads a team of doctors and volunteers coordinating evacuations, said a convoy of 20 buses had transported 1,500 people out of the last rebel pocket of Aleppo, including 20 wounded.
Watch What Else is Making News
The evacuations were on the verge of being finished, according to Ahmad Qarra Ali of the powerful Ahrar al-Sham rebel group. “All the evacuations will be completed today, in several convoys,” he told AFP.
A Syrian military source also told AFP the last evacuations could take place on Wednesday, but the process has been plagued by repeated holdups. At least 25,000 people have left rebel districts of Aleppo since opposition fighters agreed last week to withdraw after years of fighting, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is overseeing the operation.
The retreat from Aleppo — which had been divided into a rebel-held east and government-controlled west since 2012 –marks the biggest victory for President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in nearly six years of civil war.
It follows a month-long army offensive and weeks of siege that killed hundreds and left rebels with less than 10 per cent of the territory they once controlled in the city. Brokered by regime ally Russia and opposition supporter Turkey, the evacuation plan has moved forward in fits and starts.
After seeing no movement this morning, an AFP correspondent saw buses arriving one after the other in the afternoon in Ramussa, the government-held district of southern Aleppo through which evacuation convoys have been passing.
The evacuees had spent hours in freezing temperatures waiting in the buses to depart, as snow blanketed Aleppo and swirled through its crumbled buildings. “The buses are not heated. The passengers, including women, children and elderly people, are suffering from the cold. They don’t have food or water,” said doctor Dbis.
It was unclear how many civilians remained inside east Aleppo, though Dbis said there were “a few thousand” who were still hoping to leave.