The refugee flood from eastern Aleppo is swelling, with the Russian military reporting that 50,000 people fled eastern Aleppo by arrangement with the Russian military over the course of the last 2 days, with 20,000 leaving this Saturday morning.
In addition it seems that more than 1,000 Jihadis gave up and surrendered to the Syrian military this morning.
Here is what the Russian Defence Ministry has said
“Only in the first half of the day, from eastern districts have escaped more than 20 thousand civilians, and 1,217 militants have laid arms.”
The Russian Defence Ministry has also issued a pointed warning to the Jihadis who have still not surrendered and to their foreign backers. This includes a stern rebuke of the way Western governments have sought to exploit the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo for propaganda purposes
“We warn terrorists and militants from the so-called moderate opposition, and also address their supervisors. Do not try undertaking whatever provocations or even firing on civilians using the humanitarian corridors for the escape.
We address those, who for the recent several months announced readiness to send over to Aleppo their humanitarian assistance: to representatives of the US, Great Britain, France, Canada, the European Union and international organisations. It is time to verify your intentions.
For the time of the humanitarian escape, the Syrian forces have stopped the attack. As the people flee the eastern districts, the Syrian forces will continue the combat operation to push out or kill the militants.”
The latter paragraph refutes theories that the partial reduction in the fighting in eastern Aleppo is connected to diplomatic moves underway this weekend between the US and Russia.
Whilst it is true that Lavrov and Kerry are once more in contact with each other, and whilst it is also true that in what looks like a desperate attempt to gain time Kerry has once again promised to withdraw the Jihadis from Aleppo, my opinion is that Lavrov and the Russians are simply going through the motions of engaging with Kerry, and these diplomatic contacts are now all but irrelevant.
The Russians and the Syrians are not waiting for Kerry. They are waiting for the civilians to leave before they round up whatever Jihadis are left.
Kerry and the US had a chance as recently as a week ago to save the Jihadis in Aleppo by agreeing terms to pull them out. They failed to do so because of divisions within the Obama administration and because of opposition from hardline elements within the Jihadis’ ranks. It is now too late. Kerry, the US, Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda’s regional backers have collectively missed the bus.
The fact that 1,217 Jihadis surrendered this morning moreover confirms that a mass surrender is indeed underway.
Meanwhile Fars reports that the Syrian military arrested four Al-Qaeda commanders this morning who were trying to escape from eastern Aleppo by hiding amongst the escaping civilians. The fact that Al-Qaeda commanders are resorting to these desperate ploys provides final and conclusive confirmation that the collapse of the Al-Qaeda pocket in eastern Aleppo is underway.
I will now offer my own opinion that the Jihadi pocket will be totally gone by early next week and may not survive the weekend.