Beirut, New York – At the beat of additional massacres and atrocities committed by regime forces backed by Iraqi fighters, Tuesday witnessed a race with time to reach a truce in eastern Aleppo under a Russian-Turkish patronage. The deal would “empty” the last pockets of the opposition in Aleppo from militants and civilians wishing to leave.
After two officials at two separate opposition factions operating in eastern Aleppo said a deal was reached concerning a truce that should have started last Monday morning, Russia’s Ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin waited until the Security Council convened an emergency meeting to assert reaching the deal. France and Britain had called for the U.N. meeting.
On Tuesday, Churkin said, “Now it’s going to be under the control of the Syrian regime, so there is no need for the remaining civilians to leave and there are humanitarian arrangements in place.”
But the Russian ambassador’s statement came in the presence of question marks concerning the fate of many civilians, particularly after the U.N. accused on Tuesday regime forces backed by Iraqi forces to have committed mass killing of civilians.
Meanwhile, US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power called for international observers to be sent to Aleppo to “oversee the safe evacuation of the people who wish to leave but who, justifiably fear that if they try, they will be shot in the street or carted off to one of Assad’s gulags.”
UK Ambassador Matthew Rycrof told the 15-member Security Council that “today is a difficult day for the Security Council,” while French ambassador Francois Delattre said, “that “in these darkest hours for Aleppo it’s never too late to do anything we can to save lives.”
In Aleppo, thousands of civilians and opposition forces were getting prepared to evacuate the rest of neighborhoods located east the city in line with a Turkish-Russian agreement stipulating their withdrawal to the countryside of west Aleppo and to Idlib.
A leading opposition official still present in Aleppo told Asharq Al-Awsat, “The evacuation will be conducted in batches and will start on the night of Tuesday-Wednesday.”
A Syrian military source told Reuters the evacuation of fighters would start at 5 a.m. (0300 GMT) on Wednesday. The source said fighters’ families would also leave, but did not mention other civilian evacuations.
Yasser al-Youssef, a spokesman for the Nour el-Din el-Zinki rebel group, told AFP the cease-fire and says the goal is to evacuate civilians and rebels from besieged areas.
Member of the Syrian Coalition Ahmad Ramadan told Asharq Al-Awsat that a series of extensive contacts in which several international parties, mainly Europe, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have contributed, led to securing a safe passage for civilians and fighters trapped in Aleppo.
“The ceasefire went into effect tonight and the evacuation of civilians will start at 5a.m. on Wednesday morning in the direction of Idlib,” he said.
Ramadan spoke about an ambiguous U.S. position vis-à-vis the Syrian file. “Washington interfered earlier to create a track that balances with the track of negotiations held in Ankara between Russia and the factions fighting in Aleppo. Washington proposed to Moscow issues that were never suggested, which led to freezing the two tracks and allowed Russia to escalate.”