A rescue operation for thousands of civilians besieged by the Syrian regime and opposition forces continued on Monday, as a second convoy of trucks carrying those trapped in eastern Aleppo reached relative safety.
The evacuees got off buses at a parking area in rebel-held western Aleppo, where they received food and clothes arranged for them by various aid groups. Some will stay with relatives, and others will go to camps for internally displaced people (IDP).
Bana Alabed, the seven year old girl who tweeted out pleas for help for Aleppo, also reportedly reached safety with the convoy.
— Ahmad Tarakji, MD (@tarakjiahmad) December 19, 2016
Lina Al Shamy, an activist who is still in eastern Aleppo, told TRT World that people hoping to leave had to wait for long hours at pickup points. She said over 40,000 people are still in the neighbourhood.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Monday said some 20,000 people have been evacuated from Aleppo's east so far.
Earlier, the first convoy of dozens of buses transported people to the same site, according to a United Nations official and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.
Ten buses that left from the Shia villages of Foua and Kefraya, north of Idlib, reached their designated stop in regime-held territory.
The exchange underscores the highly sectarian nature of the conflict, with Sunni-led rebels on one side and Shia Syrians loyal to the Iran-backed regime of Bashar al Assad on the other. The war, now entering its sixth year, has killed almost 500,000 people.
The evacuation of civilians, including wounded, from the two villages that have been besieged by rebels for years, was a condition for the Syrian army and its allies to allow thousands of fighters and civilians trapped in Aleppo to leave.
Rami Zien, one of the evacuees who made it to the city's west, recounted his harrowing rescue from the ancient city, saying “we were really scared if something bad (should) happen” as he, along with others, remained trapped inside the buses for hours at a checkpoint surrounded by Syrian regime forces. Last week, backed by Russian airstrikes, the Assad regime overwhelmed most of the rebel-held areas of Aleppo.
On Sunday, buses en route to the Shia villages were set on fire by unknown attackers, bringing the evacuation operation to a halt.