Russian president says he is negotiating with ‘armed opposition’ as thousands of people leave Aleppo
Vladimir Putin has said he planned a “national ceasefire” in Syria and new international talks as evacuations of rebel fighters and civilians from Syria’s Aleppo gathered pace early on Friday.
“The next step will be to reach agreement on a complete ceasefire across all of Syria,” the Russian president said on the sidelines of an official visit to Japan.
“We are actively negotiating with members of the armed opposition, with the mediation of Turkey.”
Putin said he had agreed with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to hold peace talks on Syria in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana.
Russia’s defence ministry earlier said more than 6,400 people, including more than 3,000 rebels, had been evacuated over the past 24 hours under a ceasefire deal.
Turkey estimated the number to be nearer 8,000. The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said on Twitter that more than 7,000 civilians had been evacuated in the first five convoys.
The evacuations began on Thursday under a ceasefire deal brokered by Turkey and Russia that would end years of fighting for the city and mark a major victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Zakaria Malahifji, a Turkey-based official in the Fastaqim rebel group told Reuters that the number of buses being used had doubled to about 50, suggesting the speed of evacuations was increasing.
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.
The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, on Thursday described the Aleppo evacuations “history in the making”.
“What is happening today is the writing of a history written by every Syrian citizen. The writing did not start today, it started six years ago when the crisis and war started against Syria,” Assad said in a video posted on Twitter.
“The people of Aleppo made history with their steadfastness, bravery and sacrifice. And every Syrian stood with the people of Aleppo and their homeland.
“I think that after the liberation of Aleppo we’ll talk about the situation as… before the liberation of Aleppo and after the liberation of Aleppo.”
Russian Lieutenant General Viktor Poznikhir, meanwhile, told the Tass news agency that all rebels had left the city.
“The militants have been driven out of all the quarters that remained under their control as a result of the Syrian troops’ offensive,” Poznikhir said.
According to Jan Egeland, the UN humanitarian adviser, Russia said the evacuation would be “swift” and promised that no harm would come to anyone who was leaving.
“Russia… confirmed that Russians would be monitoring and that this is a swift, unbureaucratic, non-intrusive evacuation and no harm will meet these who are evacuated,” he said.