By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA Close to 1,000 civilians and 26 wounded, including several children, were evacuated from east Aleppo on Thursday, in an operation the International Committee of the Red Cross expects to double by day's end, a senior official told Reuters."Many more" rotations of the buses and ambulances would be needed in coming days, said Robert Mardini, ICRC regional director for the Near and Middle East, in an interview in his Geneva office after being briefed by ICRC's Syria delegation chief Marianne Gasser in Aleppo."This for us is the first step, it was a positive one," Mardini told Reuters. "We were able so far to evacuate 26 wounded persons from east Aleppo and close to 1,000 civilians, who were transferred from east Aleppo to western rural Aleppo"."There is another rotation under way and we hope to be able to evacuate almost the same number of wounded and civilians."
The first evacuees were escorted on buses and 13 ambulances through government-held west Aleppo to opposition-controlled areas, where they will choose where they want to go.A team of 14 ICRC staff and nearly 100 volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) took part in the operation, for which they needed a crane to remove debris and burned buses to clear the way into "volatile and unpredictable" east Aleppo, Mardini said. Gasser has also overseen evacuations from Madaya and the Old City of Homs during the nearly six-year war."The report we got inside and what my colleagues were telling me was heartbreaking. People are totally exhausted, disillusioned, in very bad shape," Mardini said.
"But they were so happy to see us, they were thankful for us being there, although we failed them, because it’s too little too late, but yet it is important."Syrian authorities conducted only "very light screening" of the evacuees, who were not registered and whose identity papers were not checked, he said.
"So far, the vast majority of people we transferred today are civilians," he said. The priority remains to evacuate the critically injured, because "it's a matter of life and death" and to supervise the evacuation of civilians, he said.Mardini, asked about evacuation of fighters still in east Aleppo, said: "We do not have clear plans ... We don't know for the next rotation. These are things that are negotiated as we go." (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Larry King)
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Updated Date: Dec 15, 2016 22:50:24 IST