‘ISIS trapped & going to die’: US reaffirms rules of engagement in Mosul

As the fighting in Mosul rages on, the number of civilian casualties and displacements have grown significantly. While vowing to avoid civilian casualties by all means, the US is adamantly helping to maintain the siege until every single jihadist dies there.

Air strikes targeting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) fighters in the Iraqi city of Mosul are frequently killing civilians, a number of residents who lost loved ones have been telling RT recently. While the Islamic State is known to use men, women, and children as human shields in Mosul, the city’s residents have also accused the coalition of indiscriminate bombing.

READ MORE: ‘They were bombing randomly’: Mosul civilians doubt coalition’s careful targeting claims

On Sunday, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter Islamic State fighters, Brett McGurk bluntly warned that any remaining jihadists in Mosul will be killed inside the besieged city.

“ISIS is trapped. … Any of the fighters left in Mosul, they’re going to die there,” McGurk said in a conference in Baghdad. “So we are very committed to not just defeating them in Mosul, but making sure these guys cannot escape.”

Following McGurk’s remarks which coincides with reports of growing civilian casualties, RT asked the US State Department if Washington is still committed to its earlier pledge to do everything possible to spare civilian lives across Iraq.

In November, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the US takes “every effort” and “every precaution to avoid civilian casualties” across Iraq event to the point where the US will call off a strike “against known enemy targets because they put civilians at risk.”

When asked again on Monday by RT’s correspondent Gayane Chichakyan if the rules of engagement have changed in any way for the Mosul operation, Toner replied: “they [rules of engagement] have not changed.”

“We try to have the best intelligence and information available that we can to avoid any civilian casualties. And again, we stand – I stand by those comments that we will sometimes, if we have information that indicates that there’s civilians nearby or civilians in a place, then we will refrain from acting,” Toner noted.

The spokesman said that if the reported allegations of strikes targeting civilians are credible, “that would need to be investigated, looked into, and… if changes need to be made in terms of targeting, then that’s something that Department of Defense would look at.”

Since October 2016, Mosul has been besieged by Iraqi troops, backed by Kurdish Peshmerga forces, Shiite militias, and the US-led coalition, trying to drive Islamic State out of the city.

In January, the eastern half of Mosul was recaptured and operations to liberate the western side are ongoing. About one-third of Western Mosul has so far been liberated.

While the civilian death toll is impossible to calculate amid the ongoing battle for Iraq’s second largest city, Sheikh Khamis Khanjar, the founder of the Office of the Sunni Arab Representative for Iraq, said at least 3,500 civilians have been killed in the battle for Mosul.

Khanjar noted that most casualties are a result of US air strikes and “indiscriminate” shelling of crowded neighborhoods by the US-trained elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) forces, Reuters reported. According to Khanjar, some 850,000 people are still believed to be living in Mosul.

‘Worse number of airstrike casualties in than during , media fails to cover‘ – monitor https://on.rt.com/85nt 

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‘Worse number of airstrike casualties in Mosul than during Aleppo, media fails to cover‘ – monitor…

The number of civilian casualties from airstrikes by the US-led coalition in the Iraqi city of Mosul exceeds the numbers reported by the media during the operation to retake Aleppo by Syrian and…

rt.com

The London-based Airwars monitoring group had earlier in the day assessed that the number of civilian casualties in Mosul far exceeded the numbers reported by the media during the operation to retake Aleppo by Syrian and Russian forces.

“Since the assault, first on east Mosul and then west Mosul began, we have seen just a remarkable change at Mosul, moving from tens of civilians reported killed every week or even every month, to hundreds reported killed every week now by coalition airstrikes,” Airwars director Chris Woods told RT’s Ruptly video agency.

In addition to the mounting civilian death toll, more than 200,000 refugees have fled Mosul since last October, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Syria war: Russia and China veto sanctions

 

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A UN chemical weapons expert, wearing a gas mask, holds a bag containing samples from a site of an alleged chemical weapons attackImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionUN investigations have said that the Syrian government carried out three chemical weapons attacks

Russia and China have vetoed a UN resolution to impose sanctions on Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons.

It is the seventh time Russia has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to protect the Syrian government.

China has also vetoed six Security Council resolutions on Syria since the civil war began in 2011.

Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under an agreement negotiated between Russia and the US.

What is Syria accused of?

The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad is accused of carrying out chemical attacks on its own civilians – a charge it denies.

However, investigations by the UN and international chemical weapons watchdog have found that Syrian government forces carried out three chemical weapons attacks in 2014 and 2015.

A boy who activists say was affected by a gas attack receives treatment at Bab al-Hawa hospitalImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionChlorine irritates people’s eyes and skin and can burn the lungs

The reports said that Syrian air force helicopters had dropped chlorine gas on rebel-held areas, twice in March 2015 and once in April 2014.

The use of chlorine as a weapon is prohibited under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention.

Islamic State (IS) militants had also used sulphur-mustard gas in an attack, the watchdog found.


Read more:

Syria blamed for chemical weapons attack

Why is Russia engaged in Aleppo?

Syria: The story of the conflict


What did the UN resolution say?

Tuesday’s resolution had been drafted by the US, the UK and France.

It would have banned the sale of helicopters to Syria and would have led to sanctions against 11 Syrian commanders or officials, and 10 groups linked to the chemical attacks.

Nine Security Council members supported the resolution, while three – China, Russia and Bolivia – voted against it.

The final three members – Egypt, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia – abstained.

Russian Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Vladimir Safronkov raises his arm to vote against a United Nations Security Council resolutionImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionRussia vetoed the resolution, saying the vote was “based on the anti-regime doctrine of western states”

A Security Council resolution needs nine votes in support, and no vetoes from the five permanent members (the US, France, Russia, UK and China) in order to pass.

Why did Russia and China veto the resolution?

Russian President Vladimir Putin had said sanctions against Syria would be “totally inappropriate”, saying “it would only hurt or undermine confidence” in peace talks.

Moscow has long-standing links to Syria, with many Syrian military officers trained and equipped by Russia.

An undated handout photo from the Russian military appears to show Russian troops in an armoured vehicle in Aleppo, SyriaImage copyrightAP
Image captionRussia has had troops deployed in Syria

Moscow says its military and political support for the Syrian government has helped the fight against IS militants.

But Western critics accuse Moscow of targeting opposition groups backed by the West.

Meanwhile, China’s UN ambassador, Liu Jieyi, said Beijing opposed the use of chemical weapons but that it was too soon to impose sanctions as investigations were still ongoing.

Liu Jieyi at the United NationsImage copyrightAP
Image captionMr Liu said it was too early to reach a final conclusion on who carried out the chemical attacks

China has said in the past that it has a long-standing policy of non-intervention in other countries’ affairs.

Analysts say China may be worried that some of its Muslim populations in western Xinjiang have joined militant groups fighting in Syria.

China’s stake in the Syria stand-off

What do sanctions supporters say?

Nikki Haley at the UNImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThe US has accused Russia of “babysitting” the Syrian government

The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said: “It is a sad day on the Security Council when members start making excuses for other member states killing their own people.

“They put their friends in the Assad regime ahead of our global security… the world is definitely a more dangerous place.”

UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said: “Not taking action against chemical weapons’ use undermines confidence in the international community’s ability to tackle flagrant violations of international law – and undermines the trust of Syrians affected by these horrific attacks.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Russia bore a “heavy responsibility toward the Syrian people and humanity as a whole”.

As civilian evacuation ends, Syrian army ‘reclaims’ Aleppo

The evacuation of eastern Aleppo has been completed, according to state media. Within minutes of the news, President Bashar al-Assad’s military said it had retaken the war-torn city.

Syrien Aleppo Evakuierung (picture-alliance/Photoshot)

The Syrian army said on Thursday the evacuation brings “the return of security to Aleppo,” emphasizing that it had also eradicated the last of the rebel fighters. The city had been divided between government and rebel forces since 2012. Syrian state TV said the army was preparing a statement declaring “victory in Aleppo.”

Syrian state TV reported the last convoy had left east Aleppo. “The last four buses carrying terrorists and their families arrived in Ramussa,” said the TV channel. The Syrian government refers to rebels as terrorists. Ramussa is a government-controlled district south of Aleppo. An official with the rebel group Ahrar al-Sham confirmed the convoy departed “the rebel-controlled area.”

Approximately 34,000 people have fled rebel-held eastern Aleppo during the past week after rebel fighters agreed to cede the city to Syria’s military forces.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is aiding the evacuation, said dozens of buses and smaller vehicles were expected to transport rebel fighters and civilians out of the city on Thursday, according to Ingy Sedky, a spokeswoman for the ICRC in Syria.

“We expect today to be the last convoys, the operation will continue all day long and during the night,” she said. “If it goes smoothly the evacuation will end tonight.”

The sick and critically wounded were among those who had been evacuated already, according to the ICRC.

Some 400 vehicles, including trucks and cars, arrived overnight in Khan al-Assal, the staging ground where evacuees from Aleppo arrive after leaving the city, according to Ahmad al-Dbis, who heads a team of doctors and volunteers who are coordinating the evacuations.

Jan Egeland, who chairs the UN taskforce for humanitarian access in Syria, hailed the evacuation, saying it amounted to lives being saved in eastern Aleppo.

“This operation saved a lot of lives, means the end of the battle proved to be less cruel than it could have been,” Egeland said.

Since government forces laid siege to Aleppo, an estimated 31,000 people have been killed in the Syrian city, according to independent monitors.

UN envoy for Syria Steffan de Mistura hinted that the evacuation may have only postponed the onslaught against rebels. “Many of them have gone to Idlib, which could be the next Aleppo,” de Mistura said.

Watch video01:43

Evacuation of Aleppo nears completion

A slow process

One rebel official said a heavy snowstorm in northern Syria and the sheer numbers of civilians still remaining were among the factors that slowed down the evacuation process.

“The numbers of civilians, their cars alongside and of course the weather all are making the evacuation slow,” said Munir al-Sayal, head of the political wing of the Ahrar al Sham rebel group.

Most of the evacuees have headed for territory to the west of the city still under the control of Syrian rebels, who are suffering their biggest defeat in more than five years of civil war after agreeing to withdraw from Aleppo.

The last evacuees are believed to be fighters and their families – more than 4,000 of them left the city overnight.

President Bashar al-Assad’s government is waiting for the end of the evacuations so it can declare the completion of the offensive to recapture what had long been a rebel stronghold. Assad called regaining control of Aleppo a victory for his Russian and Iranian allies as much as for his own country.

More than 300,000 people have been killed and half the population displaced since the conflict erupted in 2011, when government forces launched a brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters calling for Assad to step down.

Watch video01:43

Aleppo protests around the world

ls,bik/sms (Reuters, AFP)

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Aleppo battle: Syrian city ‘back under government control’

 

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Syrian rebel fighters, arrive in the opposition-controlled Khan al-Assal region, west of Aleppo after being evacuated from the embattled cityImage copyrightAFP
Image captionMore than 34,000 people have been evacuated since last Thursday

The Syrian army says it has retaken control of the besieged city of Aleppo, following the evacuation of the last group of rebel fighters.

A UN official said earlier that more than 34,000 civilians and rebels had been removed since last Thursday.

The evacuees have been taken to rebel-held territory in the countryside west of Aleppo and in Idlib province.

This is the biggest victory for President Bashar al-Assad since the uprising against him began in 2011.

The evacuation of the opposition-held part of eastern Aleppo was part of a deal brokered by Russia and Turkey.

In return, residents of the government-controlled towns of Foah and Kefraya in Idlib province, besieged by rebels, would also be removed.

Heavy snow, strong winds and the poor state of vehicles had slowed the evacuation, Red Cross officials said. Thousands of people were forced to wait for hours in sub-zero temperatures with little food or drink.

‘Crushing blow’

In a statement on Syrian TV, the army announced the “return of security to Aleppo”.

Media captionAleppo “tweeting girl” Bana Alabed tells of “heavy suffocating smoke”

“This victory represents a strategic change and a turning point in the war against terrorism on the one hand and a crushing blow to the terrorists’ project and their supporters on the other hand,” it said. The government usually refers to the rebels as “terrorists”.

The statement said the victory was a further incentive for the army to carry on fighting to “eradicate terrorism and restore security and stability to every span on the homeland”.

Ahmed Qorra Ali, part of the rebel group Ahrar al-Sham, told AFP that “the last convoy has left the rebel-controlled area”.


Aleppo: Before and after the battle

INTERACTIVE

2016

View from the citadel across the devastated city

2008

View from the Citadel of people eating at restaurants


Aleppo was once Syria’s largest city and its commercial and industrial hub before the uprising against Mr Assad began in 2011.

For much of the past four years it was divided roughly in two, with the government controlling the western half and rebels the east.

Troops finally broke the deadlock this year with the help of Iranian-backed militias and Russian air strikes, reinstating a siege on the east in early September.

After breaking through the rebels’ defensive lines in mid-November, they quickly advanced and had seized all but 2.6 sq km (1 sq mile) by the time a ceasefire was brokered.

Map

Earlier, Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that its warplanes had carried out 18,800 sorties since launching an air campaign against Mr Assad’s opponents in September 2015.

In total, they had “liquidated 725 training camps, 405 weapon factories and workshops, 1,500 pieces of terrorist equipment, and 35,000 fighters”, he said.

Human rights groups have accused the Russian and Syrian air forces of committing war crimes in Aleppo, alleging that they killed hundreds of civilians this September and October alone, deliberately targeted medical facilities, and used indiscriminate weapons such as cluster and incendiary munitions.

UN Security Council unanimously backs sending monitors to Aleppo

The UN Security Council has voted unanimously to approve a joint text from France and Russia for UN observers to monitor the evacuation of civilians from Aleppo. Tens of thousands have left since the weekend.

Syrien Evakuierung aus Aleppo (picture alliance/dpa/EPA/STR)

The vote in the United Nations Security Council was passed unanimously on Monday after a delay following a threat from Russia to veto the original resolution proposed by France. The measure tasks the United Nations with carrying out “adequate, neutral monitoring and direct observation on evacuations from eastern Aleppo and other districts of the city.”

A compromise was reached between France and Russia on the wording of the resolution so that it would allow the monitors to observe after consultations with “interested parties.” The United States said it had been expected to pass unanimously.

The resolution may allow a number of groups on the ground, including Syrian soldiers and the Shiite militias fighting alongside them, as well as fighters from an array of rebel groups, including extremists, to block access to areas they control.

French Ambassador Francois Delattre said the international presence would prevent Aleppo from turning into another Srebrenica, referring to the 1995 massacre in Bosnia. “This is a starting point,” Delattre told reporters. “We will be extremely attentive, extremely vigilant.”

Aleppo evacuation

After waiting in below-freezing temperatures and wet, wintry conditions, thousands of civilians have been evacuated out of eastern Aleppo in Syria.

Convoys of buses reached rebel-held areas to the west of the city, according to a UN official and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitor based in the UK. Around 5,000 people traveled in 75 buses out of Aleppo on Monday, according to Ingy Sedky, spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said some 20,000 civilians had been evacuated from Aleppo so far. The United Nations said nearly 50 children, some critically injured, had been rescued from eastern Aleppo, where they had been trapped in an orphanage.

Ahmad al-Dbis, who heads a team of doctors and volunteers coordinating evacuations, said the people were in “a very bad state after waiting for more than 16 hours” at a regime checkpoint without being allowed off the buses.

“Complex evacuations from East Aleppo and Foua & Kefraya now in full swing. More than 900 buses needed to evacuate all. We must not fail,” Jan Egeland, who chairs the United Nations aid task force in Syria, reported via social media.

According to the ICRC and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, around 500 people left in a dawn convoy from Foua and Kafraya, loyalist villages in the mostly rebel-held Idlib province, which have been under siege by extremists for almost two years.

Among those evacuated from eastern Aleppo to a rebel-held area farther west was 7-year-old Bana al-Abed, whose Twitter posts with her mother throughout the siege by government forces helped draw attention to the plight of civilians.

Russia and Iran discuss political process

The foreign and defense ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey are to hold talks in Moscow on Tuesday aimed at giving fresh impetus for a resolution in Aleppo.

On Monday, the Kremlin issued a statement indicating that President Vladimir Putin had spoken with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and discussed the situation in Syria. The call was at Iran’s initiative, according to the Kremlin. The Russian president had said it was important to launch a genuine political process for Syria as soon as possible, according to the Kremlin.

Putin said he hoped the two could work together for a resolution to the Syria crisis as soon as possible.

The Russian president has previously said he wanted to see new Syrian peace talks involving the Syrian government and the opposition. He is trying to build support for the talks, proposing they take place in Kazakhstan.

jm/rc (Reuters, AP)

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Aleppo battle: Hundreds leave Syria city as evacuations resume

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Buses drive through the Syrian government-controlled crossing of Ramoussah, on the southern outskirts of Aleppo, on 18 December 2016Image copyrightAFP
Image captionSyrian state media said buses entered eastern Aleppo in the middle of Sunday but did not leave for many hours

Evacuations have resumed from east Aleppo, with buses and ambulances leaving rebel areas of the Syrian city, a UN official says.

At least 350 people reportedly left rebel enclaves in convoys late on Sunday, towards government territory.

Earlier, buses sent to take people out of government-controlled areas, besieged by rebels, were set alight, halting the latest evacuation deal.

Thousands are waiting to leave east Aleppo in desperate conditions.

The UN Security Council is said to have agreed a compromise to allow UN monitoring of the operation. Russia earlier rejected a French-drafted plan to send UN officials to east Aleppo as “a disaster”.

“We expect to vote unanimously for this text,” said US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power.

The Security Council meeting is due to start at 09:00 (14:00 GMT) in New York.

Initial efforts to evacuate the last rebel-held enclaves in the city collapsed on Friday, leaving civilians stranded at various points along the route out without access to food or shelter. Bombardment of east Aleppo has left it virtually without medical facilities.

Despite further setbacks on Sunday, buses and ambulances began moving out of the area after nightfall.

“Evacuations are on,” the UN official said in an email message to Reuters news agency, adding that the first people left east Aleppo at around 23:00 local time (21:00 GMT).

Five buses carrying evacuees arrived in rebel-held Khan al-Assal, AFP news agency quoted Ahmad al-Dbis, who heads a team of doctors coordinating evacuations to the town, as saying.

From Khan al-Assal, the evacuees are expected to travel to government held parts of Aleppo and Idlib provinces.

Media captionNurses are forced to perform a Caesarean in place of surgeons in Aleppo

Pro-government forces previously demanded that people must be allowed to leave the mainly Shia villages of Foah and Kefraya in Idlib province, besieged by rebels, in order for the evacuation of east Aleppo to restart.

Some 1,200 people were due to be taken out of the former rebel enclave in return for a similar number moved out of the two government-held villages, Foah and Kefraya.

However, it is not thought any of the some 2,000 people believed to live in the two villages left on Sunday.

Media captionThe convoy of buses was travelling to the two government-held villages of Foah and Kefraya

Earlier on Sunday, armed men set fire to at least five buses that were about to transport the sick and injured from the villages.

Several reports said the Jabhat Fatah al-Sham rebel group, formerly al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, was responsible. But Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group fighting alongside Syria’s government, said the blaze started during fighting between the jihadist Fatah al-Sham and another Islamist rebel group that supported the evacuations.

The jihadist groups have not commented on the attack.

However, the Free Syrian Army, a more moderate rebel faction, condemned it as a “reckless act endangering the lives of nearly 50,000 people” in east Aleppo.

Among the people waiting to leave eastern Aleppo are sick and wounded children, said the children’s charity Unicef.

Some young children have been forced to leave without their parents, the charity said, and hundreds of vulnerable children remain trapped.

Who are Jabhat Fateh al-Sham?

Map

Aleppo evacuation: Thousands wait to leave as ‘new deal reached’

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A child reacts while waiting with others to be evacuated from a rebel-held sector of eastern Aleppo, Syria 16 December 2016.Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionAid workers say children are among those waiting in freezing temperatures in east Aleppo

Trapped civilians and rebels are waiting to leave east Aleppo in Syria after a new deal was reportedly reached for evacuations to resume.

Government and rebel sources say the agreement will allow people to leave several besieged enclaves in Syria.

But hours after the announcement, aid agencies were still waiting for the process to start.

At least 6,000 people left east Aleppo under a fragile truce on Thursday, but the operation was halted a day later.

The area has seen rapid government advances in recent weeks.

As well as east Aleppo, the deal is also said to include the evacuation of two other rebel-held towns and two towns loyal to the government.

Only when Shia civilians are allowed out of the pro-government towns of Foua and Kefraya, both besieged by rebels, will Aleppo’s convoys begin moving again, reports the BBC’s Quentin Sommerville in Istanbul.

Fifty buses have headed to Foua and Kefraya in anticipation, and more are gathering at the Ramousseh crossing outside Aleppo, our correspondent says.

Map

Confusion reigned on Friday morning when the evacuation from east Aleppo, which was taking place along corridors out of the city towards rebel-held areas (Khan al-Asal and Khan Touman), was stopped.

The government said rebel fighters had fired on the convoys at the checkpoint at Ramousseh. Rebels said pro-government forces opened fire.

What happens next?

The United Nations Security Council is expected to vote over the weekend on a French-drafted proposal to ensure the operation is co-ordinated by international observers, with humanitarian aid allowed into Aleppo and hospitals given protection.

Correspondents say thousands of cold and hungry civilians remain stranded in the rebel-held east of the city, waiting to be moved to safety.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on all sides to provide guarantees and allow the evacuation to be completed.

“It’s important that the parties on the ground do their utmost to end this limbo,” ICRC Syria head Marianne Gasser said in the statement.

“People have suffered a lot. Please come to an agreement and help save thousands of lives.”

Media caption Wounded evacuees from eastern Aleppo in Syria have been brought to Idlib, south west of the city, for medical help

What does the new agreement involve?

On Saturday various government and rebel sources confirmed that a deal had been reached, which included the following:

  • The continuation of the evacuation of civilians and rebels from eastern Aleppo
  • The evacuation of “humanitarian cases” from the mainly Shia towns of Foah and Kefraya, besieged by rebels, in Idlib province
  • The evacuation of wounded from two government-besieged towns near the Lebanese border – Madaya and Zabadani

Monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the evacuation from Foah and Kefraya, which are home to some 20,000 people, was expected to start on Saturday.

Syrian state TV, meanwhile, said starting the Idlib evacuations was the main condition for allowing the Aleppo exodus to continue.

How Srebrenica’s survivors view Aleppo

Russia hails ‘victory over terrorism’

Global solidarity over Aleppo

War photographer joins Syria convoy

Grey line

Who is still trapped in eastern Aleppo?

The UN’s children’s charity Unicef says sick and wounded children are among the evacuees from east Aleppo, some of whom left without their parents.

An injured boy from east Aleppo sits in a hospital bed near Idlib, 16 DecemberImage copyrightAP
Image captionSome injured children are being treated in a field hospital near Idlib

“However, hundreds of other vulnerable children, including orphans, remain trapped inside that part of the city,” it added.

“We are extremely concerned about their fate. If these children are not evacuated urgently, they could die.”

Abdulkafi al-Hamdo, a teacher who is also still in east Aleppo with his young daughter, told the BBC by phone he did not want to leave his home and city but believed he had no choice.

“The weather is so cold,” he said. “Some people have been here since 09:00 yesterday (07:00 GMT on Friday) and the children are so hungry they are crying. They are freezing. Most of them here are scared of a brutal end to the ceasefire.

“They are afraid that they will not be able to get out. This is the feeling of most people here.”