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Aleppo evacuations back on track as thousands leave besieged areas

Convoys carrying about 3,000 people leave east Aleppo, amid reports of first reciprocal departures from rebel-besieged villages in Idlib
Bana Alabed, who attracted international attention during the Aleppo siege (IHH, Twitter)

Aleppo's evacuation resumed overnight on Monday, with reports of thousands of people leaving rebel-held areas of the city and reciprocal departures from two villages besieged by rebel forces in nearby Idlib province.

Turkish NGO IHH confirmed that 3,000 people were successfully evacuated from eastern Aleppo with plans to evacuate the rest of the population from the besieged area later today. 

The NGO said 51 buses carried the evacuees from the besieged area early this morning after repeated delays due to restrictions imposed by the Syrian government. 

Among the residents evacuated from eastern Aleppo was the family of Bana Alabed, who shot to fame with her account of living under siege via Twitter, as well as MEE contributor Zouhir el-Shimale. 

READ: LIVE: Aleppo evacuations

Speaking to Middle East Eye via WhatsApp, el-Shimale confirmed that he arrived safely in the rebel-held province of Idlib and said thousands were stuck in the freezing cold. 

"We were stuck for two to three hours in the freezing cold where there was no food or water for the people or civilians waiting on the street," said el-Shimale in a video sent via WhatsApp. 

Commenting on the evacuation process he said it was a "slow process" with "no order at all" as thousands await to be evacuated from eastern Aleppo. 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitor, said 10 buses had also left the besieged villages of Foua and Kefraya near Idlib, and had arrived in a government-controlled area of Aleppo.

The evacuation of wounded and other civilians from the villages is a condition for the departure of those still in the besieged rebel zone of Aleppo.

The deal for Aleppo was brokered by Syrian government ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey, and has been overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross. 

Reports said seven-year-old Bana Alabed was among those who had left Aleppo on Monday. Alabed's Twitter account attracted international attention during a government siege.

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura estimated that as of Thursday about 40,000 civilians and perhaps as many as 5,000 opposition fighters remained in Aleppo's rebel enclave.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council will vote on Monday on a French-drafted resolution to quickly deploy UN observers to Aleppo, with Russia apparently backing the measure.

Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, said: "We put in some good hours of work and I think we have a good text."

The latest evacuation came hours after 350 people were able to leave east Aleppo late on Sunday, a medical official said, although evacuations were officially postponed at that time.

"Five buses carrying the evacuees arrived from besieged parts of east Aleppo," said Ahmad al-Dbis, who heads a team of doctors and volunteers coordinating evacuations to rebel-held Khan al-Assal.

"They were in a terrible state," Dbis said. "They hadn't eaten, they had nothing to drink, the children had caught colds, they were not even able to go to the toilet."

The evacuations from rebel-held areas of Aleppo had been suspended on Friday, a day after convoys had begun leaving the rebel sector under a deal allowing the government to take control of the city.

The main obstacle to a resumption had been a dispute over evacuations from Foua and Kefraya. Rebel gunmen on Sunday attacked buses sent to take people out of c and Kefraya and burned them, plunging the deal into crisis.