Syrians have spray-painted moving messages on their homes ahead of their evacuation from Aleppo – vowing that they will return to the city.
Graffiti has been scrawled on buildings around the city with one fleeing resident writing ‘goodbye’ and others insisting: ‘we will come back’.
The messages emerged as a deal to evacuate civilians from Aleppo collapsed amid reports Syrian troops had used bulldozers to block a humanitarian corridor out of the city – trapping thousands inside the warzone.
Some expressed anger over the way their homes had been destroyed while one heartbreaking message said: ‘For everyone who shared the misery with me, I love you’.
Thousands of residents and rebel fighters are said to have already left in a convoy of buses and ambulances over the last 24 hours as part of a fragile truce deal.
But the evacuation came to a dramatic halt this morning as a line of buses came under fire with both sides accusing each other of derailing the process.
It comes amid claims ‘Iranian’ militants loyal to dictator Bashar al-Assad had ‘detained’ civilians as they were being transported along what was supposed to be a safe route towards the town of Idlib.
There had earlier been reports that protesters have blocked the road preventing buses from passing as they called for the evacuation of two Shi’ite villages near Aleppo.
But Syrian state TV blamed rebel opposition fighters, accusing them of opening fire on the convoy. Accusations have also been made that rebels are trying to take prisoners with them out of the city – against the terms of the truce.
Russia said this morning that the evacuation was ‘finished’ after more than 9,500 people – including 4,500 fighters, 337 wounded and all women and children – had left the rebel-controlled area. But some rebel fighters remained and were firing at Syrian troops, Russian media reported.
According to local reports, pro-government bulldozers have started building barriers in the Ramousa neighbourhood – effectively closing the evacuation road.
Thousands have already been transported from the city, but there are fears that terrified evacuees could risk becoming caught up in yet another massacre once they are relocated to the town of Idlib.
Meanwhile, hospitals in Western Aleppo are said to be ‘overwhelmed’ as they treat patients with missing limbs, horrific head and eye injuries and chronic disease including diabetes.
Earlier, footage emerged showing terrified children fleeing for their lives from an ambulance after it was targeted by snipers during the mass evacuation.
Harrowing footage shows the group of frightened boys and girls crying as they are led away from the emergency vehicle against the backdrop of sniper fire.
Video of the dramatic escape emerged as a mass evacuation of civilians was suspended this morning amid reports of an explosion at the pick-up point for buses leaving the city.
Footage captured by Mojahed Abo Al Jood, a freelance cameraman for ITV News, shows adults helping the children out of the ambulance and across rubble towards a bombed-out building. The sobbing youngsters cower in the building as shots are fired nearby.
It is not known exactly where the incident unfolded or for how long they were forced to hide.
This morning the operation to evacuate civilians and fighters from the last rebel-held parts of Aleppo was suspended as Assad’s regime accused rebels of violating the deal.
‘The evacuation operation has been suspended because the militants failed to respect the conditions of the agreement,’ a security source said.
‘The terrorist groups violated the agreement and tried to smuggle heavy weapons and hostages from east Aleppo,’ state television added.
Robert Mardini, regional head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, confirmed Friday that ‘regretfully, the operation was put on hold’.
‘We urge the parties to ensure it can be relaunched and proceed in the right conditions,’ he said.
It comes as Syria’s envoy to the UN, Staffan de Mistura last night warned violence could sweep in to the town of Idlib, west of Aleppo unless a political accord is found for the ceasefire.
He said: ‘I don’t know what will happen in Idlib, but if there is no ceasefire or political accord then it will become the next Aleppo.’
He also added that there were ‘not enough’ UN observers on the ground at present to observe the evacuation.
His comments came amid warnings from eastern Aleppo’s leader Brita Hagi Hassan that tens of thousands ‘are about to be victims of a general massacre.’
Last night, the UK announced it will provide a further £20million of aid for Syria as Prime Minister Theresa May condemned Assad and his Russian and Iranian supporters.
Earlier this morning the evacuation of rebel fighters and civilians – including wounded from the last opposition-held areas – had been gathering pace under a ceasefire that would see the government retake the city.
There was no sign, however, of evacuations from two villages besieged by rebels in neighbouring Idlib province, which were expected to be included in the deal.
About 6,000 people had left rebel-held Aleppo in several convoys of buses since Thursday, when the evacuations began, Zakaria Malahifji, a Turkey-based official in the Fastaqim rebel group told Reuters.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the number was closer to 3,000, including some 600 fighters.
The number of buses being used had doubled to about 50, Malahifji said, suggesting the speed of evacuations was increasing.
‘There are a lot of buses now,’ Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said.
Aleppo had been divided between government and rebel areas of control in the nearly six-year civil war, but a lightning advance by the Syrian army and its allies that began in mid-November saw the insurgents lose most of their territory in a matter of weeks.
Meanwhile, a senior Turkey official has said a camp to host people evacuated from Aleppo will be set up inside Syria near the border.
Turkey will continue to accept sick and wounded coming from the city, the official said.
Two potential sites, about two miles inside Syria, have been identified to set up a camp, which will have the capacity to host up to 80,000 people, officials said, adding that they expected around 30,000 to 35,000 people to come.
Evacuations of rebel fighters and civilians including wounded from the last rebel-held areas of Syria’s Aleppo have gathered pace, with a Turkish official saying close to 8,000 civilians have left the city.
Turkey was making efforts to increase the number of buses used for the evacuation to speed up the process.
Russia has been providing road security for the convoys and they have not suffered any fresh attacks, officials said.
President Vladimir Putin said he and his Turkish counterpart are working to launch a new round of peace talks between the Syrian government and the opposition – negotiations which would take place in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana.
Putin, speaking during on a visit to Japan on Friday, said Ankara had helped to broker the rebel exit from Aleppo that is currently under way. He said he and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are also working for an overall truce in Syria.
The Russian leader said that once the Syrian army secures control of all of Aleppo, civilians will be able to return to their homes.
It was not immediately clear if western-backed Syrian opposition would accept such a location for peace talks with President Bashar Assad’s government.
A Turkish official said his country’s aid organisations are helping Syrians who have been evacuated from Aleppo to a border area held by the opposition in Syria’s Idlib province.
Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak said on Friday that ’20 buses from Aleppo have reached the safe zone under control of the Free Syrian Army in Idlib’. He said 30-35 injured people were being treated at the Sahra hospital just over the border.
Mr Kaynak said there had been a discussion with Syrian opposition forces over the possibility of establishing a centre ‘within a security zone in Syria’. He told the private Dogan news agency that ‘Idlib has no physical capacity to accommodate so many people’.
He estimated there are 80,000 to 100,000 individuals who would like to leave Aleppo under the ceasefire deal which Turkey helped broker.
He added that Turkey is willing to provide assistance to ‘legitimate’ Syrian opposition groups to help meet their needs. The minister spoke after visiting the Cilvegozu border crossing with Syria in southern Turkey.
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