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Syrian army urges remaining rebels and civilians to leave east Aleppo

It came as key government allies Russia and Iran, as well as rebel supporter Turkey, agreed to act as guarantors in peace talks, according to Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov
Residents from the mostly Shiite Syrian villages of Foua and Kefraya, which are besieged by opposition fighters, wait in a bus to get the green light from rebels to cross into a government-controlled area of Aleppo province on December 20, 20016. Omar Haj Kadour/AFP
Residents from the mostly Shiite Syrian villages of Foua and Kefraya, which are besieged by opposition fighters, wait in a bus to get the green light from rebels to cross into a government-controlled area of Aleppo province on December 20, 20016. Omar Haj Kadour/AFP

ALEPPO // Syria’s army urged eastern Aleppo’s last remaining rebels and civilians to leave on Tuesday as it prepares to take full control of the devastated city.

It came amid evacuations from the former rebel stronghold that Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said should finish within “one or two days”.

Following a flurry of diplomatic activity, key government allies Russia and Iran, as well as rebel supporter Turkey, agreed to act as guarantors in Syria peace talks, Mr Lavrov said.

The three countries also backed expanding a ceasefire, he added.

In east Aleppo on Tuesday, soldiers using megaphones called on remaining fighters and civilians to leave opposition-held districts, a military source said.

“The army is expected to enter [Aleppo] to clean the area after the fighters leave,” the source said.

At least 25,000 people have left rebel districts of Aleppo since the operation began last week, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is overseeing the operation.

Spokeswoman Ingy Sedky said 750 people had been evacuated in parallel from Foua and Kefraya – two Shiite-majority villages in north-west Syria besieged by rebels – as part of the deal.

Ten buses left the battered east on Tuesday morning, Ms Sedky said.

However, no other buses moved for the rest of the day, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, and a medical official overseeing evacuations.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said the delay was due to complications in Foua and Kefraya.

Around 20 buses had entered the two villages on Tuesday but had yet to evacuate anyone, Mr Abdel Rahman said, but had no further details.

State news agency Sana blamed the “delay in the last batch” of evacuations from Aleppo on “disputes” among rebel groups.

“I’m waiting for my brother to get out of east Aleppo – he’s a 70-year-old civilian,” said Nuhad Al Seikh, just outside rebel-held Aleppo.

“I’ve been speaking to him over the cell phone. He said he boarded a bus but is still waiting,” said the 55-year-old.

At Khan Al Assal, the staging ground where evacuees from Aleppo, Foua and Kefraya were being transferred to their respective destinations, hundreds of people were seen aboard eight buses from the two villages.

Bashar Babbour, who works with the medical charity UOSSM, said evacuees he saw at Khan Al Assal on Tuesday morning looked cold and exhausted.

“When people are going to the medical assessment teams, most of them ask for food and water, in addition to blankets, especially if they’re arriving at night,” Mr Babbour said.

He said many other evacuees were also asking if there was internet access there so they could contact friends or relatives.

* Agence France-Presse

Updated: December 21, 2016 04:00 AM

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