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Civilian evacuations begin after ceasefire deal in Syria

Convoys head for rebel-held territory west of Aleppo

ALEPPO, SYRIA Ambulances and buses carrying the first evacuees from Aleppo left rebel-held territory in the city yesterday under a fragile exit deal, an AFP correspondent reported.

A slow-moving convoy of around two dozen vehicles snaked out of Al-Amiriyah district and crossed into government-held Ramussa en route to rebel-held territory in the west of Aleppo province.

The convoy was led by vehicles from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, followed by ambulances and then green government buses.

ICRC spokesman Ingy Sedky said the first convoy included 13 ambulances and 20 buses carrying civilians.

"They have crossed the frontline and are on their way to rural parts of western Aleppo," she told AFP.

The first people to leave were the wounded and sick, and their relatives. The convoy moved across the Ramussa bridge and was expected to travel to the town of Khan al-Aassal in the west of Aleppo province, under the agreement brokered by government backer Russia and opposition supporter Turkey.

A Palestinian-born Danish volunteer helping out with evacuations in rebel-held parts of Aleppo said he is part of a six-vehicle ambulance convoy that will head for a nearby hospital with "about 2,000 of those wounded."

Mr Khalid Alsubeihi said the convoy "will be one of the first groups that are being evacuated" and expressed hope that everything will go smoothly and the Syrian government and the Russians will abide by their pledges "this time."

The fragile deal was supposed to begin on Wednesday morning, but collapsed briefly with a return to violence, sending panicked civilians who had gathered to leave scrambling to find safety.

After hours of talks, the deal was revived and was expected to be implemented throughout yesterday and possibly into the coming days.

The evacuation comes after a month-long Syrian army operation to recapture all of east Aleppo, a rebel stronghold since 2012. The army now holds more than 90 per cent of the city's east.

The ceasefire and evacuation will end years of fighting in Aleppo between the Syrian government and its allied Shi'ite militia, and mostly Sunni rebels seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad after revolting in 2011 during the Arab uprisings.

- AFP, REUTERS

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