LONDON -- Civilians, some of them wounded, boarded ambulances and buses as an operation to evacuate thousands of residents from the last rebel-held enclave of eastern Aleppo got underway on Thursday.
“We are hoping that more will be evacuated very soon,” Matthew Morris, an ICRC spokesperson, told ABC News, adding that the vehicles and buses that drove the first batch of civilians have returned to eastern Aleppo to pick up more. The process of getting all civilians out of the area could take days, he said, and around 100 ICRC and Syrian Red Crescent staff members are likely to be working overnight.
In recent weeks, the Syrian government, with help from its Russian and Iranian allies, intensified airstrikes on eastern Aleppo in an offensive that killed hundreds of civilians and displaced tens of thousands.
Some residents said they will be sad to leave their homes even though they had been living with the danger of regular bombardments and with little access to basic human needs such as food, health care, water and fuel for heating.
“People in the street — some of them are happy, maybe most of them are happy that they are going out safe. Some of them are angry they are leaving their city,” said Wissam Zarqa, a teacher who said he remains in eastern Aleppo with his family and friends. "I saw some of them crying. This is almost my feeling in a way.”
Zarqa and other residents said that some people have been burning belongings that they can’t bring with them out of the city — such as motorbikes and cars — so that they won’t be taken by forces loyal to Assad.
On Wednesday night, rebel groups announced that a new truce was to start and that evacuations were to take place Thursday morning.