A number of buses containing fighters from east Aleppo and their families left the last rebel-held sector of the Syrian city on Sunday after a deal between rebels and pro-government forces allowed evacuations to resume.
Pro-government forces agreed
to the deal in exchange for people being allowed to leave two Shi’ite villages besieged by insurgents. The Aleppo evacuation ground to a halt on Friday after a disagreement over the villages of al-Foua and Kefraya.
Syrian state television, citing its correspondent in the city, said on Sunday buses had started to leave east Aleppo where over 15,000 people gathered in a square to wait for the buses. Many had spent the night sleeping in the streets in freezing temperatures.
Some buses and Red Crescent vehicles also arrived at the entrance to the two villages, most of whose residents are Shi’ite Muslims, shortly after the deal was announced, according to al-Manar television. The broadcaster is affiliated to the Lebanese group Hezbollah, an ally of Damascus.
However, five buses were attacked and burned on their way there, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Syrian state media said.
State television showed pictures of flames coming from the green buses which have come to be synonymous with evacuations in Syria.
Videos broadcast on social media showed men with guns cheering and shouting “God is great” as the buses burned.
State media said “armed terrorists”, a term it uses for groups fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, carried out the attack. Pro-Damascus Mayadeen television said the rebel group formerly known as the Nusra Front was behind the attack.
Rebel officials said an angry crowd of people, possibly alongside pro-government “operatives”, was responsible.
Aleppo had been divided between government and rebel areas in the nearly six-year-long war, but a lightning advance by the Syrian army and its allies began in mid-November following months of intense air strikes, forcing the insurgents out of most of the rebel-held territory within a matter of weeks.