Aleppo evacuation halted as both sides trade blame
Diplomats sought to salvage the evacuation of eastern Aleppo after it stalled Friday amid recriminations by both sides in Syria’s civil war, raising fears the cease-fire could collapse with thousands still desperate to escape the rebel enclave.
The Aleppo evacuation was suspended after a report of shooting at a crossing point into the enclave. The Syrian government pulled out its buses that since Thursday had been ferrying out people from the ancient city that has suffered under intense bombardment, fierce battles and a prolonged siege.
“The carnage in Syria remains a gaping hole in the global conscience,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “Aleppo is now a synonym for hell.”
The halt also appeared to be linked to a separate deal to remove thousands of people from the government-held Shiite villages of Foua and Kfarya that are under siege by the rebels. The Syrian government says those evacuations and the one in eastern Aleppo must be done simultaneously, but the rebels say there’s no connection.
The foreign minister of Turkey, a main backer of the rebels, said he was talking to his counterpart in Iran, a top ally of the Syrian government, to try to resume the evacuation.
A closed emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council was held on the crisis in Aleppo, discussing a French proposal to have independent monitors oversee the evacuation of civilians and fighters. The council meeting ended with diplomats saying they would convene again this weekend.
The cease-fire and evacuation marked the end of the rebels’ most important stronghold in the 5-year-old civil war. The suspension demonstrated the fragility of the cease-fire deal, in which civilians and fighters in the few remaining blocks of the rebel enclave were to be taken to opposition-held territory nearby.
In announcing the suspension, Syrian state TV said rebels were trying to smuggle out captives who had been seized in the enclave after ferocious battles with troops supporting President Bashar Assad.
Several opposition activists said Syrian troops shot and killed four people in one bus, but the incident could not be independently confirmed.
Before the operation was suspended Friday, four convoys of ambulances and buses left Aleppo, Syrian state TV said, noting that some evacuees used their own vehicles.