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Aleppo fighting stops; residents prepared for evacuation

Aleppo fighting ceases as residents and rebels prepare to move to countryside areas, according to MEE correspondent
Residents are happy to be safe but saddened to leave their homes, says Zouhir al-Shimale from east Aleppo (Reuters)

Guns, shelling and airstrikes have fallen silent in Aleppo since 6 pm local time on Tuesday, said Middle East Eye correspondent in the city Zouhir al-Shimale.

Government forces and rebels reached a ceasefire agreement that could spell the end of the battle for Syria's once largest city.

Shimale said rebel fighters and civilians who opt to leave will be able to travel to Aleppo's western countryside, which is controlled by anti-government forces.

The fight for Aleppo lasted more than four years and concluded in a six-months siege, as concerns for civilians trapped in rebel-controlled neighbourhoods grew.

Shimale described intense fear on Monday night, as people were worried that government troops that were closing in on their territory would execute or capture them. He said the artillery shelling and airstrikes grew immense the night before the ceasefire was announced.

"The bombing was abnormal," he said in a phone call. "The morale was low. We were scared. We thought if we did not die from the shelling, we would be killed or get arrested when the regime enters our neighbourhoods."

The ceasefire brought a bittersweet feeling of relief among residents, Shimale said. While people were happy that they will be able leave the besieged areas safely, they were saddened by the fact that they may never return to the neighbourhoods they called home.

"Now we are going to western Aleppo (province), but we don't know where we will go next," Shimale said. "The regime may besiege us or kill us in those areas next. We may have to leave the country like the others who have left."

Shimale estimated the number of people left in rebel-controlled areas to be between 40,000 and 70,000.

He said the evacuation will start at 5 am local time on Wednesday. Wounded residents will be allowed to leave first, as a goodwill gesture, but clearing the city of those who want to leave is expected to be a lengthy process, according to Shimale.

He said residents were burning their belongings, including cars, so forces loyal to the government of President Bashar al-Assad do not loot them.

The MEE correspondent spoke of horrors witnessed by residents over the past weeks since the government offensive started. He said shelling and airstrikes leveled entire districts to the ground - as people were fleeing, they could hear the pleas of their loved ones from under the rubble, but could not help them.

Reports of extrajudicial killings in areas captured by the government have caused a global outcry.

Shimale said pro-Assad forces executed several families who did not flee Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood. He added that official figures of atrocities are impossible to compile because of the chaos in the city.

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