EXCLUSIVE: Journalist describes his journey on Aleppo evacuation bus
Middle East Eye has obtained exclusive footage showing bus passengers making the journey from eastern Aleppo to rebel-held Idlib province on Monday morning, following the resumption overnight of evacuations from the besieged area.
The footage, filmed through the window of a bus by MEE contributor Zouhir Al-Shimale as he was leaving the city, shows a landscape of shattered buildings devastated by air strikes and bombardment.
The sound of young children can be heard in footage showing passengers and their belongings squashed together on the bus.
Shimale, who has been filing regular updates to MEE, later sent a video confirming his arrival in Idlib.
"During the trip we were faced by three or four checkpoints by the Russians and the Iranians and the Hezbollah militias,” said Shimale.
“They were saying you can go back to the regime side and no one will harass you or arrest you but no one listened to them. People were just silent and we moved to the western countryside and no one got hurt or arrested."
Thousands of people are still believed to be waiting to leave eastern Aleppo in increasingly desperate and freezing conditions.
A photo taken by Shimale also showed hundreds of people massed around buses. A few Red Crescent workers stand in a line holding hands on one side of the crowd in an apparent effort to keep it contained. Armed men in military fatigues can be seen behind the Red Crescent workers.
Shimale had previously tried to leave eastern Aleppo on Friday but he said the convoy of cars in which he had been travelling was forced to turn back after being stopped by pro-government militia fighters.
Some of those in the convoy were robbed of money and their mobile phones and four people were killed, Shimale said, although MEE cannot independently verify these details.
Evacuations from eastern Aleppo began on Thursday but were halted on Friday amid disagreements over the terms of the deal, which also included arrangements for the evacuation of of Foua and Kefraya, two Shia-majority villages besieged by rebel forces in Idlib province.
But Red Crescent officials, who have been monitoring the evacuation operation, confirmed that five buses and an ambulance had left eastern Aleppo in the early hours of Monday morning.
Two convoys carrying a total of 3,000 people arrived in a government staging area in the west of Aleppo on Monday morning, according to Dr Ahmad Dbis, who heads a team of doctors and volunteers co-ordinating evacuations.
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.