With conflicting reports about who is responsible for the suspension of the evacuation of civilians from Syria’s eastern Aleppo, it was not immediately clear Saturday when or if Aleppo’s battle-weary civilians will have another opportunity to leave.
U.S. President Barack Obama has denounced the horror in Aleppo and warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad he cannot “slaughter his way to legitimacy.”
The Syrian government suspended the evacuation Friday after blasts and gunfire were heard in parts of the city, and both rebels and government forces accused the other of breaking the fragile cease-fire agreement.
The Syrian government ordered trucks and buses that had been carrying people out of the rebel-held parts of Aleppo to turn around as the army set up roadblocks along the highway that had been used in the evacuation.
Turkey, which has been heavily involved in the Aleppo peace process, said the suspensions are temporary.
“The evacuations are not over and many people still want to leave the area,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Syria’s government says the rebels broke the agreement by trying to smuggle heavy weapons and hostages out of Aleppo. The rebels accused the government of suspending the evacuation as a way to pressure them into releasing civilians from two government-held Shi’ite villages currently under siege by the rebels.
The government says the evacuations in the Foua and Kfarya villages must coincide with those in eastern Aleppo, but the rebels say the two are unrelated.
Russia’s Defense Ministry, however, says the evacuation is complete and, “all of the women and children have been moved from the rebel-controlled neighborhoods.” The ministry says only “radical and intransigent” militants remain.
Earlier, Russia’s president said his country is working with Turkey to start a new round of peace talks on Syria with a goal of a nationwide cease-fire.
Speaking Friday during a visit to Japan, Vladimir Putin said he and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan propose holding negotiations between the Syrian government and opposition, possibly to take place in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana.
His comments came as more civilians prepared to leave the destroyed city of Aleppo after thousands had fled Thursday under the cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey that essentially ceded what has been a divided city to Syrian government control.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump said Thursday at a rally in Pennsylvania the United States would create safe zones in Syria.
“We’ll build and help build safe zones in Syria, so people will have a chance.” Trump said, “When I look at what’s going on in Syria, it’s so sad.”
The president-elect, in his first comments on the U.S. role in Syria since winning the election, said he would ask Persian Gulf nations to contribute to the financing of the zones.
The United Nations Security Council met in a closed-door emergency session Friday to discuss Aleppo, with more talks planned Saturday.
France, which called for the meeting, wants international observers on hand to monitor the evacuation of civilians, which is taking place after years of fighting in the city. Previous cease-fires collapsed almost immediately, putting a halt to evacuation efforts.
The conflict in Syria, which began nearly six years ago as a protest against the government, has so far killed more than 310,000 people and forced millions of people to flee their homes.
The developments come after convoys of ambulances and buses pulled away Thursday from Aleppo, which was a crown jewel of Muslim and Arab history and culture before the Syrian civil war left it in ruins.
The buses left eastern Aleppo and went into government-held territory before eventually making it to another rebel-held part of the province.
Scores of wounded civilians arrived in Turkey Friday for treatment.
Syrian rebels hold only a sliver of eastern Aleppo after Syrian forces, with Russian military support, began their push to retake the city. Assad said Thursday that history would be made with what he referred to as the “liberation of Aleppo.”
“What is happening today is the writing of a history written by every Syrian citizen. The writing did not start today. It started six years ago when the crisis and war started against Syria,” Assad said in a video posted to his official Twitter account.
Kerry criticizes terrorizing of civilians
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, “We have witnessed indiscriminate slaughter, not accidents of war, not collateral damage, but frankly purposeful, cynical policy of terrorizing civilians.”
Kerry said the United States is going to work to save lives and continue pushing all parties in Syria toward a resolution and allow full access by humanitarian groups throughout all of Syria.
“We believe this is a moment where the Syrian regime and the Russian military have an opportunity to make the decision to, a strategic decision I might add, for peace.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter criticized the Russians Thursday for failing to carry out their stated reasons for becoming involved in Syria, which was to help in the political transition.
“The Russians came in, I’ll remind you, to Syria saying that they were there to promote precisely that political transition. And they haven’t done that. And they also said they were coming in to fight ISIL (Islamic State) and they haven’t done that either,” Carter said.
Also see: Aleppo Evacuation in photos