On December 16, with the world’s media watching Aleppo as stuttering attempts at cease-fire agreements came and went and thousands of civilians remained under siege in the east of the city, the Russian Ministry of Defense steadfastly denied that a convoy carrying would-be evacuees had been prevented from leaving and sent back into the besieged rebel enclave.
The Russian Ministry of Defense’s ‘Center for the Reconciliation of the Warring Sides in Syria’ told the Interfax news agency that no such event had happened:
"Reports alleging that one of the convoys carrying 950 militants and their families was turned back to the city absolutely do not correspond with reality."
But that very convoy had been filmed by a camera crew from Britain’s ITV news, which documented the convoy being held at a regime-controlled checkpoint, and then being sent back to the east. The pro-opposition HalabToday news channel then released video of the convoy returning to rebel-held territory.
Shortly afterwards, raising fears of an impending attack, ITV photographed regime-allied troops dumping rubble on the highway out of eastern Aleppo, barring any further evacuations.
That the convoy had been stopped and sent back was even confirmed by state-owned news channels in both Syria and Iran, making Russia’s claim seem all the more ridiculous.
Later that evening, details on what actually happened began to emerge, with video circulating of crowds who had gathered to evacuate in the morning fleeing amid gunfire.
Zouhir al-Shimale, a Syrian journalist who had been among those travelling with the convoy, reported that regime-allied troops had stopped the buses, handcuffed many of the would-be evacuees, and forced them to lie on the floor. A photo disseminated by Asaad Hanna, a political officer in the opposition Free Syrian Army showed soldiers, reportedly Hezbollah militiamen, standing guard over dozens of people lying prone on the floor with their hands tied behind their backs. The image appears to be genuine given the lack of any prior appearances in reverse image searches and the appearance of the landscape.
Al-Shimale and several others claimed that four people had been executed by the regime-allied fighters, something which was denied by an Aleppo-based source to the BBC’s Riam Dalati.
While the exact details of what happened during the period when the convoy was held before being sent back are still uncertain, there is incontrovertible evidence that the Russian Ministry of Defense was lying when it claimed that no convoy had been stopped.
Indeed the Russian Ministry of Defense was engaged in all-out disinformation that day, when, in addition to denying the halting of the convoy, it claimed that the entire evacuation operation had been completed, with all women and children transferred out of eastern Aleppo.
Three days later, on December 19, the evacuation operation was still under way, with many women and children only making it out of the siege on that date and an unknown number of people, reportedly in the thousands, still awaiting transfer. The Turkish IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation reported that 3 children died of hypothermia while waiting to be evacuated in freezing temperatures on the night of December 18.