Unlikely as it seems, matters could be improving in the Syrian town of Aleppo. An evacuation agreement was recently struck, and if it holds, thousands and thousands of refugees will be free to quit the besieged city. According to UNICEF, 47 orphan children left the area this morning as part of a humanitarian convoy.
Turkey said that about 20,000 people have been evacuated from eastern Aleppo so far, as a fragile ceasefire between rebels and government forces was holding. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday that the evacuees from the besieged city were bused to an area under opposition control, in an ongoing effort to get people to safety.
Even though government forces have declared victory in the Battle of Aleppo, thousands of civilians remain caught in the crossfire. Rebels still hold important sectors of the city. The last week of fighting has raised the specter of ethnic cleansing. Reports of gunmen going from house to house appeared in the major media. Observers at home and abroad feared the worst.
According to the New York Times:
The United Nations says that it has about 100 staff members in Aleppo, and several hundred others in nearby Syrian cities. Officials with the world body have said that they have been denied permission to observe evacuations. As many as 50,000 civilians may still be stuck in the area, according to humanitarian groups, although a precise figure is all but impossible to determine.
However, with Russia’s agreement, the Security Council voted this morning to allow for on-the-ground monitoring of evacuation.
Why is this important? Because prior truces didn’t take. Sporadic violence kept breaking out. Earlier evacuation-ceasefires were voided just as soon as they were announced. Just yesterday, a bus driver was killed. The inclusion of international observers makes it more likely that the momentary lull will endure long enough for bystanders to escape. Such a chance is desperately needed. Thousands of people are sleeping on the cold streets inside Aleppo.
The government seems to be living up to their side of the bargain. The rebels had to give up something too: five hundred people were recently evacuated from loyalist villages currently under siege by opposition forces.
In this holiday season, there’s hardly peace on earth, but even in a war-torn country, there still seems to be residual goodwill towards men.