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Civilians trapped amid uncertain ceasefire – Al Jazeera

Syrian rebel groups have said a ceasefire agreement has been reached in war-torn Aleppo, while pro-government armed groups have cited “big complications”.

Officials from the Nureddin al-Zinki and the Ahrar al-Sham rebel groups confirmed to AFP news agency that a new truce deal had come into effect after hours of violence on Wednesday.

But a military media unit run by Damascus’s ally Hezbollah said early on Thursday that reports about the implementation of an Aleppo ceasefire deal and evacuations from the city were false.

“The negotiations are seeing big complications, in light of tension and operations on the front lines,” said a statement from the unit. Hezbollah is an armed Lebanese Shia political group backed by Iran.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said hostilities were ongoing after an earlier agreement brokered by Russia and Turkey collapsed.

Under the initial plan, thousands of civilians and rebel fighters were due early on Wednesday to evacuate the east of Syria’s second city, scene of some of the worst violence in more than five years of war across the country.

The delay came on Wednesday morning when pro-government Shia militias demanded that civilians in Kafraya and al-Fua – two towns besieged by armed opposition groups – be evacuated, as well.

But cold and hungry civilians who had gathered before dawn to leave were turned away by pro-government militias.

“Bombing is ongoing, no one can move. Everyone is hiding and terrified,” activist Mohammad al-Khatib told AFP from inside east Aleppo.

“The wounded and dead are lying in the street. No one dares to try and retrieve the bodies.”

Syrian state television said rebel rocket fire on government-controlled areas also had killed at least seven people.

Former al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham said on Wednesday that one of its suicide bombers detonated a car bomb at a regime position in southern Aleppo.

Turkey said it would meet with Russia and Iran in Moscow on December 27 to discuss a political solution to the conflict in Syria.

Syria’s army has pressed a month-long assault that has seen it take more than 90 percent of the former rebel stronghold in east Aleppo.

Turkey has said those leaving would be taken to Idlib province, which is controlled by a powerful rebel alliance that includes Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.

Sharif Nashashibi, a writer and Middle East analyst, said the Syrian government’s advances in Aleppo had created “a sense of emboldenment, that they can do what they want”.

“However, at least part of the impetus of this was the fence-mending process between Turkey and Russia, which brokered the ceasefire,” he told Al Jazeera. “If the ceasefire works it will contribute to that process, but if it fails it will strain it.”

The UN said on Tuesday that it had credible reports of at least 82 civilians, including 11 women and 13 children, being executed in recent days.

And the UN’s Commission of Inquiry for Syria said it had received reports opposition fighters were blocking civilians from fleeing Aleppo and using them as human shields.

Aleppo, a cultural and economic hub second only to Damascus in importance, had been split between a rebel-controlled east and government-held west since 2012.

It was unclear how many civilians remained in rebel territory, after an estimated 130,000 fled to other parts of Aleppo during the government advance since mid-November.

Syria’s conflict has evolved from largely unarmed protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad into a full-scale civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced more than half of the country’s prewar population.

Marwan Kabalan, a Syria analyst and associate political analyst at the Doha Institute, said he expects the Syrian government to focus its attacks on the Damascus suburbs after the fall of Aleppo.

“I think the regime will turn next to targeting the Damascus suburbs,” he told Al Jazeera. “Idlib is becoming a point of exile for fighters … I think it will remain like this till the very end [of the conflict].

“For now, the top priority for the international community and the opposition is to get the civilians evacuated from [eastern Aleppo].”(Al Jazeera)



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