Turkey confirms ceasefire, evacuation deal reached in Aleppo

Syrian pro-government forces take a selfie in the courtyard of the ancient Umayyad mosque in the old city of Aleppo on December 13, 2016.
PHOTO: AFP

Ankara - Turkey confirmed Tuesday (Dec 13) that a ceasefire deal was agreed following talks between the Syrian opposition and Russia, which would mean rebels evacuating from war-ravaged eastern Aleppo.

The agreement comes as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime is close to recapturing all of east Aleppo, which rebels have held since 2012.

"We can confirm there is a ceasefire in the city after talks between Russian military and the opposition in eastern Aleppo," Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Huseyin Muftuoglu told reporters.

The deal means civilians would be evacuated from the northern Syrian city followed by rebel fighters, the spokesman said.

A Turkish government official said the agreement came into force at 6:00 pm (1500 GMT).

"Our nation spent weeks trying to secure a humanitarian corridor. These efforts in the last days increased," Muftuoglu added.

He warned that such a fragile situation in Syria required caution, although Turkey was pleased with the step taken to secure the ceasefire.

Ankara also confirmed the deal stipulated that those leaving would go to the northwest province of Idlib, almost completely controlled by a powerful rebel alliance known as the Army of Conquest.

Turkey confirms ceasefire, evacuation deal reached in Aleppo

  • Syrian residents, fleeing violence in the restive Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood, arrive in Aleppo's Fardos neighbourhood on December 13, 2016, after regime troops retook the area from rebel fighters. Syrian rebels withdrew from six more neighbourhoods in their one-time bastion of east Aleppo in the face of advancing government troops, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
  • The remains of a shell are pictured outside Aleppo's historic citadel, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016.
  • Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stand atop a damaged tank near Umayyad mosque, in the government-controlled area of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016.
  • A member of forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad attempts to erect the Syrian national flag inside the Umayyad mosque, in the government-controlled area of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016.
  • Syrian pro-government forces take a selfie in the courtyard of the ancient Umayyad mosque in the old city of Aleppo on December 13, 2016. After weeks of heavy fighting, regime forces were poised to take full control of Aleppo, dealing the biggest blow to Syria's rebellion in more than five years of civil war.
  • Syrian residents, fleeing violence in the restive Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood, arrive in Aleppo's Fardos neighbourhood on December 13, 2016, after regime troops retook the area from rebel fighters. Syrian rebels withdrew from six more neighbourhoods in their one-time bastion of east Aleppo in the face of advancing government troops, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
  • Syrians leave a rebel-held area of Aleppo towards the government-held side on December 13, 2016 during an operation by Syrian government forces to retake the embattled city. UN chief Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm over reports of atrocities against civilians Monday, as the battle for Aleppo entered its final phase with Syrian government forces on the verge of retaking rebel-held areas of the city.
  • A general view shows Syrian pro-government forces walking in the ancient Umayyad mosque in the old city of Aleppo on December 13, 2016, after they captured the area. After weeks of heavy fighting, regime forces were poised to take full control of Aleppo, dealing the biggest blow to Syria's rebellion in more than five years of civil war.
  • Syrian pro-government forces walk in Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood after they captured the area in the eastern part of the war torn city on December 13, 2016. After weeks of heavy fighting, regime forces were poised to take full control of Aleppo, dealing the biggest blow to Syria's rebellion in more than five years of civil war.
  • Syrian opposition fighters fire towards positions held by Islamic State (IS) group jihadists in al-Bab on the northeastern outskirts of the northern embattled city of Aleppo on December 13, 2016.
  • Boys stand amid the damage in the government-held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016.
  • Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad walk inside Aleppo's historic citadel, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016.
  • Damaged buildings are seen in the government-held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016.
  • A general view shows the damage in the government-held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016.
  • People carry their belongings as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016. The Arabic words read, "No to monopolizing commodities and raising prices under the siege".
  • People flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016.
  • Children walk together as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016.
  • A man pushes a cart with belongings as he flees deeper with another man into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016.
  • People carry their belongings as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016.
  • A man pushes a woman on a cart as they flee deeper with others into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016.
  • People walk as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016.
  • People carry their belongings as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016.
  • A view shows the damage as seen from Aleppo's historic citadel, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016.
  • A member of forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad carries a tree branch as he walks inside Aleppo's historic citadel, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016.
  • A damaged tank is pictured amid the damage near Umayyad mosque, in the government-controlled area of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016.
  • Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stand atop a damaged tank near Umayyad mosque, in the government-controlled area of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016.
  • A man sits amid debris near Umayyad mosque, in the government-controlled area of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016.
  • A man carries a child with an IV drip as he flees deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2016.
  • Free Syrian Army fighters gather in a rebel-held area of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2016.
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter handles ammunition in a rebel-held area of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2016.
  • A rebel fighter walks past people carrying belongings as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2016.
  • Children push containers in strollers as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2016.
  • People carry belongings as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2016.
  • A man pushes a cart carrying an elderly woman and belongings as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2016.
  • Smoke rises as seen from a governement-held area of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2016.
  • Smoke rises as seen from a governement-held area of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2016.

"Civilians and moderate rebels with light weapons will be granted safe passage to Idlib. Once they reach Idlib, they will be free to relocate," the government official said.

A rebel official told AFP the deal sponsored by Russia and Turkey would begin "within hours".

Amid concerns over what will happen to Aleppo residents, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek wrote on Twitter that Turkey "is to set up a tent city to accommodate up to 80,000 Syrian refugees fleeing Aleppo".

He did not give any further details.

Earlier Tuesday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey would intensify talks with Assad ally Russia for a ceasefire to end the "humanitarian tragedy" in Aleppo.

The deal comes hours after the Turkish foreign ministry accused Damascus and its supporters of breaching international humanitarian law in Aleppo in a statement.

It added Turkey was "horrified and outraged by the massacres" in the second city including women and children.

The ministry was referring to comments from the United Nations that it had received credible reports that at least 82 civilians, including 11 women and 13 children, had been killed in recent days in the city.

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