President Bashar al-Assad today congratulated Syrians on the “liberation” of Aleppo, as civilians and fighters evacuated the last rebel pocket of the city. The city’s “liberation” was “history in the making and worthy of more than the word ‘congratulations’,” he said in a video posted on the presidency’s official social media accounts. Ambulances and buses carrying the first evacuees from Aleppo left remaining rebel-held territory in the city today under a fragile exit deal. A slow-moving convoy of around two dozen vehicles snaked out of Al-Amiriyah district and crossed into government-held Ramussa en route to rebel-held territory in the west of Aleppo province.
The convoy was led by vehicles from the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, followed by ambulances and then green government buses. ICRC spokeswoman Ingy Sedky said the first convoy included 13 ambulances and 20 buses carrying civilians. “They have crossed the front line and are on their way to rural parts of western Aleppo,” she told AFP.
The first people to leave were the wounded and sick, and their relatives. The convoy moved across the Ramussa bridge and was expected to travel to the town of Khan al-Aassal in the west of Aleppo province, under the agreement brokered by government backer Russia and opposition supporter Turkey.
The fragile deal was supposed to begin yesterday morning, but collapsed briefly with a return to violence sending panicked civilians who had gathered to leave scrambling to find safety. After hours of talks, the deal was revived, and was expected to be implemented throughout today and possibly into the coming days.
The evacuation comes after a month-long army operation to recapture all of east Aleppo, a rebel stronghold since 2012. The army now holds more than 90 percent of the city’s east.