Syria’s army has urged the last remaining rebels and civilians to leave the besieged opposition enclave in Aleppo as it prepares to take full control of the devastated city.
The evacuation of Aleppo’s rebel sector is seen as a pivotal moment in the nearly six-year war that has killed more than 310,000 people and triggered a major humanitarian and refugee crisis.
The government and other parties on the ground have agreed to allow 20 observers to be sent to east Aleppo to monitor evacuations, said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
Following a flurry of diplomatic activity, key regime allies Russia and Iran as well as rebel supporter Turkey agreed to act as guarantors in Syria peace talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier.
They also backed expanding a ceasefire, according to Lavrov, who said the evacuation of east Aleppo should finish within “one or two days”.
In east Aleppo, soldiers using megaphones called on the remaining fighters and civilians to exit the opposition districts, a military source told AFP.
“The army is expected to enter (Aleppo) to clean the area after the fighters leave,” the source said.
At least 25,000 people have left rebel districts of Aleppo since the operation began last week, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is overseeing the operation.
Spokeswoman Ingy Sedky said 750 people had been evacuated in parallel from Fuaa and Kafraya, two Shiite-majority villages in northwest Syria besieged by rebels, as part of the deal.
Ten buses left the battered east yesterday morning, Sedky told AFP.
But no other buses moved the rest of the day, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a medical official overseeing evacuations.
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said the delay was due to complications in Fuaa and Kafraya.
Around 20 buses had entered the two villages yesterday but had yet to evacuate anyone, Abdel Rahman said, but he had no details on the reason.
State news agency SANA blamed the “delay in the last batch” of evacuations from Aleppo on “disputes” among rebel groups.
“I’m waiting for my brother to get out of east Aleppo -- he’s a 70-year-old civilian,” Nuhad al-Seikh told AFP just outside rebel-held Aleppo.
“I’ve been speaking to him over the cellphone. He said he boarded a bus but is still waiting,” said the 55-year-old.
An AFP correspondent at Khan al-Assal, the staging ground where evacuees from Aleppo, Fuaa and Kafraya were being transferred to their respective destinations, saw hundreds of people aboard eight buses from the two villages.