Aleppo evacuation deal back on rebels

The UN says raids by the Syrian government and its allies on an area "packed with civilians" most likely violated international law.

A deal to evacuate the last rebel-held part of eastern Aleppo is back, a day after a previous agreement fell through.

Rebel fighters and civilians in the Syrian city had been due to leave early on Wednesday but the truce collapsed.

Rebel groups said late on Wednesday that evacuations would take place in the early hours of Thursday. But there has been no confirmation so far from the Syrian government or its major ally Russia.

Negotiation complicated
A media unit run by the Lebanese Shia Muslim movement Hezbollah, a backer of the Syrian government, said negotiations were undergoing big complications and had not yet concluded.

The rebels said “the new ceasefire would come into effect late on Wednesday, with evacuations to follow hours later.’’

The new deal would allow the simultaneous evacuation of two villages being besieged by rebels in north-western Syria.

Syria’s government and its ally Iran had insisted the evacuation from eastern Aleppo could happen only when those villages were evacuated.

On Wednesday morning, buses and ambulances were brought to evacuate rebel fighters and their families, only to be turned away shortly afterwards.

Hours after the first agreement brokered mainly by Russia and Turkey collapsed, air strikes resumed over rebel-held territory, where at least 50,000 civilians remain.

Violation of international law
The UN said raids by the Syrian government and its allies on an area “packed with civilians” most likely violated international law.

“While the reasons for the breakdown in the ceasefire are disputed, the resumption of extremely heavy bombardment by the Syrian government forces and their allies on an area packed with civilians is almost certainly a violation of international law and most likely constitutes war crimes,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad al-Hussein said.

Meanwhile, Western forces are using satellites and unmanned aircraft to gather evidence of possible war crimes in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria.

Besieged residents have faced weeks of bombardment and chronic food and fuel shortages.

Medical facilities in the city have largely been reduced to rubble, as rebels have been squeezed into ever-smaller areas by a major government offensive, backed by Russian air power.

“The wounded and dead are lying in the street…No one dares to try and retrieve the bodies,” one activist, Mohammad al-Khatib said.

It is not clear how many people remain in the besieged areas. UN envoy Staffan de Mistura put the figure at about 50,000.

He said there were approximately 1,500 rebel fighters, about 30% of whom were from the jihadist group formerly known as the al-Nusra Front.

Other local sources say “there could be as many as 100,000 people, many of them arriving from areas recently taken by the government.’’

Meanwhile, demonstrations in solidarity with the people of Aleppo have taken place in cities across the world, including Hamburg in Germany, Sarajevo in Bosnia and Rabat in Morocco.

The lights of the Eiffel Tower were also dimmed. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said she hoped the gesture would highlight the need for “urgent action” to help the people of Aleppo.

Mercy Chukwudiebere