Civilians and rebel fighters were to begin evacuating Syria Aleppo “within hours” as part of an agreement reached Tuesday that would end years of opposition resistance in the city.
The rebel officials, Russia and Turkey have confirmed the agreement which, if implemented, will mark a major victory of President Bashar al-Assad over the opposition forces that arose in 2011.
Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the Syrian army had stopped operations in Aleppo as part of the deal, adding: “The fighting around Aleppo is complete.”
The smoke rises following an air attack by the Syrian government on rebel positions east of Aleppo. AP Smoke rises following an air strike by the Syrian government on rebel positions east of Aleppo.
Green government buses gathered near the district of Salaheddin at the end of Tuesday, some entering briefly but returning empty and stationing on the outskirts, said an AFP correspondent.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has indicated that evacuations should begin around 03:00 GMT.
The agreement came amid global outrage more and more by reports of atrocities, including dozens of summary executions, as forces loyal to Assad closed on the last pocket of rebel territory in Aleppo.
Officials from several rebel groups told AFP that there was an agreement to allow civilians and combatants to leave Aleppo for the territory held by the opposition west of the city.
“An agreement has been reached,” said Yasser al-Youssef of the political bureau of the main rebel group Nureddin al-Zinki, adding that the agreement had been “sponsored” by Russia and Turkey.
“The first step will be the evacuation of civilians and wounded in a few hours, and then the fighters will leave with their light weapons.”
As the UN Security Council met in an emergency session to discuss Aleppo, Churkin said: “There is indeed an agreement reached on the ground that the fighters will leave the city.”
Turkey said that under the agreement, civilians would evacuate first, followed by withdrawal of rebel groups.
“We are pleased with the measure taken today to obtain a ceasefire, but we must always be aware of the fragile situation before us and it is wise to be prudent,” said the ministry spokesman Of Foreign Affairs Huseyin Muftuoglu.
US Ambassador Samantha Power told the Security Council that Washington wanted international observers in Aleppo to oversee the evacuation.
She raised concerns for “people who wish to leave but who, rightly, fear that if they try, they will be shot in the street or transported to one of the gulags of Assad.
In eastern Aleppo, a spokesman for the White Helmets Relief Group said the prospect of leaving the city was devastating.
“How can anyone leave his city?” Said Ibrahim Abu al-Leith.
“Do not think we’re very happy to leave. No one who is expelled from his country is happy.”
An AFP correspondent in western Aleppo said there had been no fighting or bombing noise since about 3 pm (1300 GMT) Tuesday and the Observatory also said it was quiet .
The United Nations and aid agencies voted in favor of an agreement to evacuate thousands of civilians held in the rebel territory.
After weeks of fierce fighting, forces loyal to Assad were about to take the whole city, carrying the biggest blow to the Syrian rebellion in more than five years of civil war.
Tormented goodbyes online
Before the ceasefire agreement was announced, there were physician distress calls in underground shelters and morgues. Then the inhabitants under the relentless bombing in the few remaining blocks under the control of the rebels in Aleppo began posting an emotional farewell on social media and in widely spread messages.
“Why this silence? People are eliminated,” tweled Abdulkafi Alhamdo, an English teacher who was a vocal critic of the government of President Bashar Assad. Then he wrote: “The last (message) Thanks for everything, we shared many moments, the last tweets were from an emotional father.
Alhamdo then went live on the Periscope video-streaming to say that the government troops were approaching. “I hope you will remember us,” he said.
“There is a problem with this planet,” said