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Thousands evacuated from Aleppo as Russia eases objections

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ALEPPO: More than 3,000 people left the rebel enclave of Aleppo yesterday, raising hope for many still stranded, as Russia eased its objections to sending UN observers to oversee the evacuations.

Two convoys of around 20 vehicles each crossed the front line in the early morning, headed for rebel-held territory elsewhere in northern Syria, after around 350 people got out during the night.

They were the first departures since Friday, when the Syrian regime suspended evacuations insisting people also be allowed to leave two north-western villages under rebel siege.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, around 500 people left in a dawn convoy out of Fuaa and Kafraya.

Government demands for evacuations from the two Shiite-majority villages had put the whole process on hold for days, and on Sunday rebels attacked buses sent to bring people out, killing one of the drivers.

A medic said the latest evacuees were in a "terrible state" after their departure was delayed for hours in temperatures well below freezing, compounding their plight from months of siege and bombardment by the army.

Mr Ahmad al-Dbis, who heads a team of doctors and volunteers coordinating evacuations, saw dozens of buses arrive at the staging ground.

He said they were in "a very bad state after waiting for more than 16 hours" at a regime checkpoint without being allowed off the buses.

"They hadn't eaten, had nothing to drink, the children had caught colds, they were not even able to go to the toilet," he said.

Around 350 people made it out during the night after Russia and Turkey persuaded the Syrian government to allow their convoy to pass a final checkpoint, the Observatory said.

It was regime ally Moscow and rebel supporter Ankara that brokered a first evacuation deal last week to end a month-long government assault in Aleppo.

The main obstacle to a resumption had been the dispute over how many people would be evacuated in parallel from the two Shiite villages.

A rebel representative said hundreds of people would also be evacuated from Zabadani and Madaya, two rebel towns near the Lebanese border under siege by the army, as part of the deal.

Iran's official news agency IRNA said the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran would meet in Moscow today to discuss the situation.

Aleppo has seen some of the worst violence of the nearly six-year war that has killed more than 310,000 people.

Physiotherapist Mahmud Zaazaa said only "three doctors, a pharmacist and three nurses" remained in the rebel enclave.

Some 40,000 civilians and 5,000 opposition fighters remained in Aleppo's rebel enclave, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura estimated.- AFP