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Some 8,500 civilians flee to government-held west Aleppo

Russia says around 8,500 civilians have been evacuated from the militant-held eastern side of Aleppo via humanitarian corridors, amid ongoing clean-up operations in the northwestern Syrian city.

The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the there were 2,934 children among those evacuated from the occupied parts of Aleppo over the past 24 hours.

The ministry said the Russian military’s sappers and bomb disposal experts were active clearing the areas freed from militant control of mines and unexploded devices.

So far, the experts had cleared some 60,000 square meters (37 square miles), and restored the central water pumping station, two power plants, two schools and two mosques in the city.

On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Syrian forces had paused active military operations in eastern Aleppo amid a large effort to secure the exit of civilians from violence-hit areas.

“Combat operations by the Syrian Army in eastern Aleppo have been suspended because the largest operation of evacuation of civilians from East Aleppo is being carried out – a column of about 8,000 people, it’s a tremendous operation,” he said.

The Syrian military, which is in control of the western part of the city, has been fighting to wrest back its militant-held east. So far it has reclaimed some 85 percent of the eastern part.

Damascus has called on the militants holed up in Aleppo’s east to lay down arms and surrender. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has ordered for those militants choosing to stop fighting to be granted amnesty.

The recent army gains have flown in the face of the unstinting financial and military support, which many foreign states have been providing to the militants since 2011 to secure the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Syrian troops look out from the citadel of the northern city of Aleppo, December 7, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

Russian aircraft have been lending support to the Syrian military’s counterterrorism operations since last September, but have withheld fire likewise from time to time due to humanitarian concerns.

Moscow currently maintains a permanent airbase at the Hmeymim facility in the Syrian port city of Latakia, about 86 kilometers north of Tartus. The outpost was established on the back of an August 2015 Russo-Syrian agreement.

On Wednesday, it was reported that the Russian government was about to finalize an agreement on the country’s establishment of a permanent naval base in Syria, too.

Amid the Syrian military’s advancements on the ground and the prospect of further Russian involvement in the anti-terror push, some Western states, including France, have called for the implementation of a ceasefire in Aleppo, citing a need for secure corridors for the transfer of humanitarian aid to the city.

However, Russia and Syria are against lengthy ceasefires in Aleppo, arguing that such pauses would enable the Takfiri militants operating there to regain strength.da34e8ab-48f3-47b4-bf39-56ab749030bc

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