Nearly 1,000 evacuees have left Aleppo in buses and ambulances bound for Idlib. Russia reassured the UN in Geneva that the process would prove swift and peaceful.
Nearly 1,000 people have been transported out of the devastated Syrian city of Aleppo towards Idlib through a specially set up corridor, using 20 buses and 10 ambulances, Syrian officials said on Thursday.
The Syrian government has guaranteed safe passage to all combatants who want to leave the city, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.
"On the order of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Russian ceasefire monitoring center is preparing the evacuation of the remaining rebels and members of their families from the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, in cooperation with Syrian authorities," it said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirmed a convoy of buses and ambulances full of wounded people had left the enclave.
Injured fighters were among those evacuated, according to a military source.
They told AFP "951 people, including 200 fighters and 108 wounded, which also included rebels" made up the first convoy.
A local journalist posted a video of the convoy on Twitter.
Earlier, the ICRC published a tweet on its Syria account, saying that an "operation to evacuate around 200 wounded, some critically" was underway. The group also said the Syrian Red Crescent Society was helping with the efforts.
Ingy Sedky, spokesperson for the ICRC, told the Associated Press that 13 ambulances, each carrying two wounded people, and 20 buses, each carrying up to 50 people, left in the convoy.
"This is the first convoy today," she said, adding that more are expected later in the day.
"We expect this operation to take some time because there will be multiple rotations," she told AFP.
The Red Cross and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights both confirmed the first convoy had reached rebel territory. Another convoy of 15 buses was due to leave later Thursday.
Red Cross representatives said they would transport the wounded rebels in ambulances, with Russian officials coordinating the effort. Russia would also use drones to monitor the evacuation.
Syrian state television reported that some 4,000 rebels and their families were to be transported out of the city.
United Nations senior envoy Jan Egeland said the UN was monitoring the evacuation and was ready to accompany evacuees to Idlib, and also all the way to Turkey.
But he stressed, "We are not able to provide humanitarian protection" as UN officers were not able to move freely.
Several wounded while riding the ambulance
While witnesses from the scene confirmed that evacuation vehicles were standing by, others said that one of the ambulances came under fire while trying to leave Aleppo.
"The convoy was shot at by regime forces and we have three injured, one of them from civil defense," ambulance crew member Ahmed Sweid told the pro-opposition Orient TV. "They were brought back to besieged areas."
A spokesman for the White Helmets rescue team, Ibrahim al Hajj, also reported gunfire.
"As our teams were clearing the way in front of the ambulances in the Ramousseh crossing, we came under fire," he told the dpa news agency.
A similar bid to evacuate the civilians fell through on Wednesday when fighting restarted.
Separately, Syria state TV showed 29 buses and ambulances heading to two Shiite villages, Foua and Kfraya, besieged by rebels to evacuate those critically ill and other humanitarian cases.
Rebel fighters leave
Russian Lieutenant-General Viktor Poznikhir told a news conference on state TV that more than 3,000 rebel fighters have left Aleppo since August.
The city was a major stronghold for fighters in opposition of Bashar al-Assad's regime.
A coalition of 17 aid organizations called for emergency help for the tens of thousands of civilian evacuees.
"The people are leaving Aleppo with nothing," warned Mohammed Katub of Syrian American Medical Society.
"The winter is very cold and we expect people to die because of the cold weather."
dj,aw/sms (AFP, dpa, Interfax, Reuters, AP)