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Syria rebels announce new evacuation deal for Aleppo civilians

A Bosnian Muslim woman cries as several thousands of Bosnian protestors gather to raise their voice against the killing in eastern Aleppo, Syria, during a rally in Sarajevo, on December 14, 2016. The seige of Aleppo is brutal but far from unprecedented, with the Bosnian capital Sarajevo and Chechnya's regional capital Grozny previously subjected to devastating bombardments. / AFP PHOTO / ELVIS BARUKCIC

Aleppo: Syrian rebels announced a new evacuation deal for Aleppo civilians and the injured, after shelling and air strikes sent terrified residents running through the city’s streets.

However a source close to Syria’s government denied the development, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said hostilities were ongoing after an earlier agreement collapsed.

Under the initial plan, thousands of civilians and rebel fighters were due early Wednesday to evacuate the east of Syria’s second city, scene of some of the worst violence in more than five years of war across the country.

But cold and hungry civilians who had gathered before dawn to leave were instead plunged back into a familiar nightmare.

“Bombing is ongoing, no one can move. Everyone is hiding and terrified,” activist Mohammad al-Khatib told AFP from inside east Aleppo.

“The wounded and dead are lying in the street. No one dares to try and retrieve the bodies.”

Officials from the Nureddin al-Zinki and the hardline Ahrar al-Sham rebel groups confirmed to AFP that a new truce deal had come into effect after hours of violence Wednesday.

“A ceasefire has come into effect in Aleppo after negotiations between the Russians and the Turkish Red Crescent,” said Yasser al-Youssef, a Nureddin al-Zinki political official.

“The first group of civilians and wounded people will leave at dawn on Thursday,” Youssef told AFP.

He said an agreement on rebels had also been reached but news of the deal was denied by a source close to Syria’s government.

“There is no agreement, the negotiations are ongoing,” the source said.

As air strikes and artillery fire shook the city earlier Wednesday, AFP’s correspondent in rebel areas of Aleppo saw panicked civilians running for cover.

The Britain-based Observatory reported “very intense clashes on every front line” and said at least two people had been killed in rebel areas.

State television said rebel rocket fire on government-controlled areas had killed at least seven people.