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Heavy Shelling Continues over Aleppo as Evacuation Stalls | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Boys stand amid the damage in the government-held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

A deal to evacuate rebel districts of Aleppo stalled on Wednesday as fierce fighting rocked the city and insurgents appeared to have rejected new conditions imposed on the deal by Iran.

A ceasefire agreed on Tuesday by Turkish intelligence and the Russian military was to have permitted evacuations to Idlib province to begin on Wednesday morning. However, fighting resumed on Wednesday after Iran demanded the simultaneous evacuation of wounded from two villages, Foua and Kefraya, that are besieged by rebel fighters, according to rebel and U.N. sources.

There was no sign of that happening. Air strikes, shelling and gunfire erupted on Wednesday and Turkey accused regime forces of breaking the truce. Also, Syrian state television said rebel shelling had killed six people.

There was no immediate indication when the evacuation might take place but a pro-opposition TV station said it could now be delayed until Thursday.

Residents said shells had fallen on the road on which the evacuations were supposed to take place.

They said the bombardment with artillery and airstrikes as well as alleged use of cluster bombs, had resumed at a pace greater even than before the ceasefire deal.

“Save us, people. Save us, people, world, anyone who has even a bit of humanity,” said one doctor in a voice message from a besieged district. “We beg you, we beg you, the dead and wounded are in the streets and people’s homes have collapsed on top of them. Save us. Save us.”

Another resident said: “We want to leave. We don’t want more massacres, let us leave. What is happening?”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that rebel resistance was likely to end in the next two or three days.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan will discuss Aleppo later on Wednesday, the Kremlin was quoted as saying.

Nobody had left by dawn under the plan, according to a Reuters witness waiting at the departure point, where 20 buses stood with engines running but showed no sign of moving into rebel districts.

People in eastern Aleppo packed their bags and burned personal belongings, fearing looting by the Syrian regime and its Iranian-backed militia allies.

In what appeared to be a separate development from the planned evacuation, the Russian defense ministry said 6,000 civilians and 366 fighters had left rebel-held districts over the past 24 hours.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Wednesday all sides to abide by the ceasefire agreement for the Syrian city of Aleppo.

Erdogan said in televised remarks that the ceasefire was “perhaps the last hope for the innocents” of eastern Aleppo and appealed for the immediate opening of a humanitarian corridor “without any obstruction or sabotage” so people can safely leave the area.

Erdogan decried the violent acts committed by Assad’s regime, saying: “not even a few hours had passed since the agreement was reached that the regime forces broke the ceasefire and once again started to attack civilians.”

Erdogan added that “Assad’s regime is clearly committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Aleppo. Everybody needs to see this reality, including those who give him support.”

At the United Nations, the United States said the violence in the city, besieged and bombarded for months, represented “modern evil”.

The once-flourishing economic centre with its renowned ancient sites has been pulverised during the war, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people, created the world’s worst refugee crisis and allowed the rise of ISIS.

As the battle for Aleppo unfolded, global concern has risen over the plight of the 250,000 civilians who were thought to remain in its rebel-held eastern sector before the sudden army advance began at the end of November.

Tens of thousands of them fled to parts of the city held by the government or by a Kurdish militia, and tens of thousands more retreated further into the rebel enclave as it rapidly shrank under the army’s lightning advance.

The rout of rebels in Aleppo sparked a mass flight of terrified civilians and insurgents in bitter weather, a crisis the United Nations said was a “complete meltdown of humanity”. There were food and water shortages in rebel areas, with all hospitals closed.