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Evacuations Stall In Besieged Syrian City Of Aleppo

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Over the last 24 hours, there were scenes of long columns of green buses and white ambulances leaving the shattered remnants of Eastern Aleppo in Syria. But the evacuation of people from that city has now stopped. A ceasefire arranged by Russia had been allowing rebel fighters, their family members and others to leave the city for rebel-controlled territory to the north. Let's find out what's happening now with NPR's Alison Meuse, who's been following the situation from Beirut and joins us on the line.

And, Alison, what happened? Why did this evacuation stop at the moment?

ALISON MEUSE, BYLINE: Hi. Well, from what we know, the evacuation had been going on for a steady 24 hours. Thousands had been evacuated. And then, this morning, Syria's state news agency blamed rebels for breaching the agreement. It said they had tried to smuggle heavy weapons. They were only entitled to take their light weapons and hostages with them in the buses.

We've heard separate reports about other complications from media run by Syria's ally Hezbollah. They say protesters blocked the buses, demanding a similar evacuation for two northern villages, which are besieged by the rebels.

GREENE: And what do we know right now about the people who are still trapped in the east of the city?

MEUSE: I've spoken to a Red Cross representative. He says there's still thousands of people there. And while the most critically wounded cases have been evacuated, he says there are still many wounded people trapped in waiting.

GREENE: OK. That's NPR's Alison Meuse speaking to us from Beirut.

Alison, thanks a lot.

MEUSE: Thank you.

GREENE: And we really got a picture of that situation earlier when we spoke by Skype with Pawel Krzysiek in the city of Aleppo. He's with the International Committee of the Red Cross. And he was describing the situation for those people who were able to get through and escape from eastern Aleppo.

PAWEL KRZYSIEK: Many of these people were wounded. They lost family members. They lost their houses. On the other hand, it's sort of bittersweet because, you know, on the one hand, they feel they're going to safer and other hands. They just leave their lives behind.

GREENE: Does any story stand out to you as you've been talking to some of these people?

KRZYSIEK: No, all - this story stands out. I mean, you enter, and you see thousands - thousands of people waiting - you know, waiting to go, burning plastic to get a little warm. We've been there at night. It was extremely cold. And the people, you know, didn't want to leave their place because they were afraid that tomorrow might be just late. And they might lose their car.

GREENE: OK. That is Pawel Krzysiek with the International Committee of the Red Cross describing the situation in eastern Aleppo. He said people are hoping not to lose their turn. But it remains unclear now whether people trying to leave the city will even get their turn now that the evacuation has stopped. And we'll be following this story in Syria as it develops throughout the day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.