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Anxious Aleppo residents await fate

dpa logodpa 13/12/2016 Shabtai Gold

A Syrian government source says the Syrian army is likely declare the city to be under its control soon, as anxious residents await their fate.

The evacuation of rebels from east Aleppo has been delayed as a ceasefire holds, while civilians in the enclave anxiously await news on their fate under a deal allowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to reassert control over the city.

The deal was reached on Tuesday between Turkey, a backer of armed opposition groups, and Russia, the key ally of al-Assad.

A Turkish official said fighters would be sent to rebel-run Idlib province, to the west of Aleppo. Russia's ambassador to the UN said civilians would be given the choice to stay in Aleppo or leave.

"We are between two choices that are so difficult. Staying under the regime control is maybe worse than hell. But displacement is hell itself," said Abdulkafi al-Hamdo, a teacher living in eastern Aleppo.

Outside the final streets under rebel control, the Syrian government organised green buses, some adorned with photos of al-Assad, to evacuate the rebels and civilians.

The green buses have become symbols of displacement in Syria, despised by opposition supporters and hailed in pro-government circles as they are brought in when rebels have agreed to surrender.

Opposition sources blamed the delayed evacuation on the Syrian government.

However, the deal appeared to be delayed over squabbles between Damascus and Moscow, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.

Fears of looting, compounded by reports that pro-government militias have stolen from abandoned homes, have led some people to burn their cars and personal effects, saying that if they cannot keep their property they do not want it to fall into their opponents' hands.

Activists and medical workers have expressed fears of reprisals by the Syrian government forces and their allies, including foreign militias. The government has a grim history of abuses towards those who expressed dissent, even non-violently.

A Syrian government source said the Syrian army would likely declare the city to be under its control on Wednesday or Thursday, a major victory for the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Russia already indicated the government has effectively reasserted itself.

Speaking to Russian state media, al-Assad accused the West of trying to prevent Moscow and Damascus from defeating "terrorists," a term he often employs against the rebels.

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