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Syrian government opens new Aleppo corridor for evacuations

Mideast Syria

The Syrian government on Friday opened a new corridor for rebels and civilians who want to leave the besieged eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, but the UN said planned medical evacuations haven’t begun as planned because of a lack of security assurances from the warring sides.

The evacuations, part of a Russia-announced pause in fighting, were announced a day earlier with great hopes by UN1 officials.

But the spokesman for the UN’s humanitarian aid agency, Jens Laerke, described an “astronomically difficult situation,” although he declined to specify who was responsible for the breakdown in the plans on Friday.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Laerke said that the evacuations couldn’t begin “because the necessary conditions were not in place to ensure safe, secure and voluntary” movement of people.

On Thursday, UN humanitarian aid official Jan Egeland said the UN had received the “green lights” for the evacuations from Syria’s government, armed opposition groups and Russia, which announced a pause in fighting in rebel-held eastern Aleppo.

Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said al-Qaida-linked militants in Aleppo were refusing to leave the city along the corridors created by the Russians and Syrian forces. He told reporters in Moscow that Russia is “seriously concerned that, despite the gestures of goodwill from Moscow and Damascus,” the fighters from the al-Qaida affiliate previously known as the Nusra Front are “refusing to leave the city.”

Aleppo’s civilians are also being prevented from leaving the eastern, rebel-held part of the city through the corridors, Lavrov added.

The pan-Arab Al-Mayadeen TV aired live footage from the Castello Road showing bulldozers that had opened the road. Buses and ambulances were parked by the roadside, waiting to take evacuees.

But residents in eastern Aleppo have said many won’t take advantage of the corridors because there are no guarantees that the evacuees won’t be arrested by government forces.

By midday Friday, no evacuations were seen along the Aleppo corridor.

“No one has left the city so far,” said Mohammed Abu Rajab, who works at an eastern Aleppo hospital that was repeatedly hit over the past weeks, knocking it out of service. “People are worried they might be detained. There are no guarantees.”

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