Aleppo evacuations gather pace as rebels, civilians leave


Evacuations of rebel fighters and civilians including wounded from the last opposition-held areas of Syria's Aleppo gathered pace early on Friday under a ceasefire that would see the government retake the city, monitors and a rebel official said. There was no sign, however, of evacuations from two villages besieged by rebels in neighbouring Idlib province, which were expected to be included in the deal.

About 6,000 people had left rebel-held Aleppo in several convoys of buses since Thursday, when the evacuations began, Zakaria Malahifji, a Turkey-based official in the Fastaqim rebel group told journalists. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the number was closer to 3,000, including some 600 fighters.

The number of buses being used had doubled to about 50, Malahifji said, suggesting the speed of evacuations was increasing.

"There are a lot of buses now," Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said.

Aleppo had been divided between government and rebel areas of control in the nearly six-year civil war, but a lightning advance by the Syrian army and its allies that began in mid-November saw the insurgents lose most of their territory in a matter of weeks.    (Reuters)

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