A night of uncertainty and fear for trapped civilians in east Aleppo

  • 18/12/2016

Thousands of civilians will spend a night in fear, after the evacuation from war-torn east Aleppo descended into fear and confusion.

Rebel leaders are accusing Iranian Shia militia of preventing the evacuation of civilians from eastern Aleppo. A deal has been agreed with the Syrian government, but is dependent on civilians being allowed to leave the besieged areas of the city.

Government and rebel forces promise the evacuation will continue, but there has been no sign of follow-through.

Just 8,000 people made it out of the city when convoys were attacked.

Abandoned bags and clothing littered the ground where fleeing civilians were forced to turn back after gunmen stopped their bus.

"We were standing there, supposedly being evacuated," a man says, in civilian-recorded footage.

"They picked us up and put us lying face down on the floor. They started stepping on us. Then they shot one civilian. They started hitting the rest. They stripped us of all of our property and money."

"The whole convoy was ransacked," another civilian said. "They started shooting at random."

Rebel fighters and civilians gather as they wait to be evacuated from a rebel-held sector of eastern Aleppo, Syria December 16, 2016.
Rebel fighters and civilians wait to be evacuated from a rebel-held sector of eastern Aleppo, Syria December 16, 2016. (Reuters/Abdalrhman Ismail)

Video shows people fleeing in panic as rapid gunshots peppered the air. Some carried babies, with rucksacks of belongings on their backs.

There is dispute over who is responsible for opening fire on the evacuees. But trapped civilians suspect an Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia run by the shadowy Maj Gen Qasem Soleimani.

Maj Gen Soleimani is described as one of the most powerful men in Syria, single-handedly running war operations for President Bashir al-Assad. Without Maj Gen Soleimani's say so, little moves in or out of Aleppo.

The evacuation is on hold. Empty buses have been filmed heading toward the crossing.

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An estimated 50,000 people remain in that rebel-held enclave in eastern Aleppo, under siege. The route out is blocked and fraught with uncertainty.

Civilians are back underground, waiting for their fate to be decided by forces outside their control.

Channel 4/Newshub.