Civilians remain trapped in eastern Aleppo after evacuations fail

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Children sit in a car as they wait to be evacuated from a rebel-held sector of eastern Aleppo, Syria December 16, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail - RTX2VE1O

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Today brought renewed doubts about the durability of the plan to allow tens of thousands of civilians and fighters to leave Syria’s major eastern city, Aleppo. Evacuations that began yesterday abruptly stopped amid renewed violence and recriminations. Meantime, the Assad regime consolidated its hold on a sector of the city rebels held for more than four years.

We have this report from Dan Rivers of Independent Television News, and it’s from Aleppo.

DAN RIVERS, ITN: Less than 24 hours after it started, the evacuation turned into a scramble for safety. Mortars had been fired and Red Crescent vehicles were forced to abandon the rescue of tens of thousands of civilians.

Well, as you can see, the buses and the Red Crescent vehicles are pulling out. We’re hearing the sounds of mortars. It’s a lot of chaos here, but what’s clear is that there has been a breakdown of this ceasefire.

Within minutes, Syrian soldiers were reinforcing the front line as an armored vehicle ventured further towards rebel territory. After an hour, the breakdown in trust was total — trucks dumping rubble to seal the escape route.

A convoy, which had already left, was forced to turn around. Women and children waiting in the biting cold as negotiations failed.

As this played out, we caught a rare glimpse of one of Syria’s allies, Hezbollah soldiers from Lebanon arriving to bolster the defenses along this key road.

And then, the final confirmation, the plan to rescue civilians was failing. The convoy driving back into the ravaged enclave they’d only just left. For those on board, it must’ve been as confusing as it was terrifying.

LINA SHAMY, East Aleppo Resident: These are the civilians that are turning back from the crossing point from the passage after it was closed.

DAN RIVERS: And where it was closed, officers were already consolidating their grip on the last checkpoint, leaving those looking on in no doubt which way the wind is blowing now.

Any vestige of the rebels is rapidly being expunged, a revolution that has burnt out here in Aleppo, leaving behind a legacy that horrifies many ordinary people.

LEENA TARSHA, West Aleppo Resident: It really breaks my heart to see the city like this, the old city like this.

DAN RIVERS: Do you think people in Aleppo can forgive each other on each side of the front line?

LEENA TARSHA: Of course, because if we couldn’t, we wouldn’t have stayed here. Of course, we can. Of course like the people, the people are strong.

DAN RIVERS: The ceasefire may have broken down for now. But there’s no reversing President Assad’s victory here — a position of strength, which seems unassailable, but one which has been achieved at the cost of this city’s people and heritage.

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