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Evacuees Said To Leave East Aleppo As UN Set For Vote On Syria Observers

  • RFE/RL

Rebel fighters and civilians gather as they wait to be evacuated from a rebel-held sector of eastern Aleppo on December 16.

Rebel fighters and civilians gather as they wait to be evacuated from a rebel-held sector of eastern Aleppo on December 16.

Some 350 evacuees were able to leave the rebel-held pocket in eastern Aleppo in Syria late on December 18 despite an attack on buses set to deliver wounded and sick people from government-held villages, monitors and aid officials.

Reports of the successful evacuations followed a December 18 attack on buses in northwestern Syria that threatened the wider deal to ship out thousands of civilians and rebel fighters still trapped in eastern Aleppo that had already been stalled by disagreements.

The reports also came as the UN Security Council prepared to convene on December 19 to vote on a French-drafted proposal to send UN monitors to Aleppo to observe evacuations from besieged areas.

At least five buses carrying evacuees from eastern Aleppo arrived in rebel-controlled areas outside the city on December 18 after they were held up in government-controlled southern Aleppo, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and activists on the ground who were in contact with the evacuees.

It was not immediately clear if convoys would be allowed to deliver more evacuees after armed assailants on December 18 attacked and burned five buses en route to evacuate ill and injured from villages near Idlib in northwestern Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights blamed the attack on Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants.

Some 1,200 people were to be taken out of the rebel enclave in return for a similar number taken out of the two villages, Foah and Kefraya, that have been besieged by the armed opposition.

But Reuters cited an unidentified UN official in Syria as saying that "evacuations are on" and that the first people left eastern Aleppo late on December 18.

"Buses and ambulances are leaving east Aleppo now," Reuters quoted the official as saying in an e-mail.

The forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over the past week have pushed to establish full control over the eastern part of Aleppo, which the opposition had held since 2012, with an offensive that has been harshly criticized by the UN and Western governments.

The operation prompted France on December 16 to circulate a draft text of a proposed resolution stating that the UN Security Council is "alarmed" by the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo and due to the fact that "tens of thousands of besieged Aleppo inhabitants" require aid and evacuation.

After initial resistance from Russia, which has backed Assad in the war and wields veto power on the council, Moscow appeared to give its backing to the resolution, which the council was set to vote on December 19.

"We put in some good hours of work and I think we have a good text," Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, said on December 18.

The new text calls on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to consult with Syrian authorities and the armed opposition to arrange for the UN monitoring of "the wellbeing of civilians."

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, said on December 18 that the text of the new proposal "includes all the core provisions to allow for UN monitoring, to get the 100-plus UN people ready to go to team up" with the Red Cross and the Syrian Red Crescent.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, and dpa
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