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Aleppo Evacuation: Residents in eastern Aleppo start loading buses

AP , Thursday 15 Dec 2016
Staff of the Syrian Red Crescent stand next to buses which will be used to evacuate rebel fighters and their families from rebel-held areas of Aleppo are seen waiting on December 15, 2016. (AFP)

Syrian activists say residents in eastern Aleppo are starting to board buses and ambulances, the first step in an evacuation that is part of the rebel enclave's effective surrender.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group says ambulances and municipal buses crossed from the government territory and arrived shortly after noon on Thursday in the last rebel area in Aleppo.

Syrian state TV has broadcast footage showing a convoy of green-colored municipal buses rumbling toward the agreed-on evacuation point inside the opposition-held area.

The spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Ingy Sedky said their staff has arrived with Syrian Arab Red Crescent ambulances and workers to evacuate the wounded. The ICRC says it's preparing to evacuate 200 wounded people, some in critical condition.

A Palestinian-born Danish volunteer helping out with evacuations in rebel-held parts of Aleppo says he is part of a six-vehicle ambulance convoy that will head to a nearby hospital with "about 2,000 of those wounded."

Khalid Alsubeihi spoke to Denmark's TV2 channel on Thursday from the besieged city where the pullout of rebels and civilians from the eastern enclave is expected to start later in the day.

Alsubeihi says the convoy "will be one of the first groups that are being evacuated" and expressed hope that everything will go smoothly and that the Syrian government and the Russians will abide by their pledges "this time."

Syrian activists say pro-government forces have shot at ambulances trying to leave eastern Aleppo, wounding at least 3 evacuees.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the ambulances were still in opposition territory when they came under small-arms fire from the government side on Thursday. It says three people were wounded.

Local hospital director and opposition activist Hamza Khatib says no ambulances or buses have been able to leave eastern Aleppo yet.

The Syrian Civil Defense responders posted on social media that two of its members were wounded when government forces fired on ambulances leaving the opposition's remaining sliver of land in Aleppo.

The activist-run group says they were evacuating wounded civilians and rebels as part of an agreement to return the city to government control. The group says one person died and two were wounded but the fatality could not immediately be confirmed.

A Pan-Arab TV station is broadcasting live from a crossing point in eastern Aleppo, where ambulances are on hand to evacuate the wounded and sick Syrians out of remaining rebel area of the city.

The Al-Mayadeen TV footage shows the Ramouseh crossing point on the southern edge of the rebel enclave and ambulances belonging to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent parked and waiting on Thursday. A green-colored government bus is also seen in the footage.

The evacuation is part of an agreement between rebels and the Syrian government for the pullout from opposition-held neighborhoods of fighters and civilians in what is effectively Aleppo's surrender to the government.

The rebels have held to the eastern part of the city for four years but their enclave rapidly evaporated in the past days in the face of a fierce Syrian government onslaught.

The media arm of Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group says overnight negotiations have reinforced a cease-fire deal to allow Syrian rebels and tens of thousands of civilians to leave the besieged eastern city of Aleppo.

It says Syrian rebels will likely begin leaving their last holdout in Aleppo "in the coming hours."

Thursday's announcement by Hezbollah's Military Media came after the cease-fire deal, mediated by Ankara and Moscow, unraveled amid fighting the previous day.

Shia Hezbollah militiamen are fighting in the Syrian civil war on the side of President Bashar Assad's forces.

Damascus and its allies have not commented on the cease-fire being back on. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the fighting stopped in the city around 4 a.m.

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