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Aleppo Evacuation Plan Reportedly Back On Track; Syria Summit Planned In Moscow

Buses that were meant to evacuate civilians from rebel-held areas of Aleppo are seen waiting on December 14.

Officials from Syria's military and the Syrian rebel alliance say a proposed evacuation plan for besieged rebel-held areas of Aleppo was back on track after a 24-hour delay.

Abdul Salam Abdul Razak, a spokesman for the Nour al-Din al-Zinki rebel group, said an agreement was reached late on December 14 that would all the evacuation to begin at 6 a.m. local time.

Officials in the Syrian government’s military alliance confirmed the truce deal, saying 15,000 people also were to be evacuated from two government-controlled villages that were besieged by rebel forces.

But a Syrian rebel official denied that 15,000 would be evacuated, saying that only wounded would be allowed to leave.

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said late on December 14 that the leaders of Turkey, Russia, and Iran were planning to meet in Moscow on December 27 in a bid to "establish a cease-fire in the whole country" of Syria "and to start summits to find a political solution" to the war that has raged there for more than five years.

Earlier on December 14, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's office said Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed in a telephone conversation to make a joint effort to start the evacuation of civilians and opposition forces as soon as possible.

The evacuation was meant to start at dawn on December 14.

Erdogan accused Syrian government forces of breaking the deal that was brokered by Turkey and Russia.

Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu also accused Russia and Iran of trying to intentionally scuttle the agreement.

But the Russian Defense Ministry said forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad resumed their assault after rebels broke the truce.

Regardless of who was responsible for the collapse of the original cease-fire and evacuation plan, the United Nations human rights chief said Assad's regime and his allies, Russia and Iran, almost certainly violated international law and probably committed war crimes by bombing civilians who were hoping to be evacuated from eastern Aleppo.

Zeid bin Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein said on December 14 that he was "appalled that the deal enabling the evacuation of many thousands of civilians, including the wounded and the sick, from the remaining opposition-held area of eastern Aleppo" collapsed.

He said "the resumption of extremely heavy bombardment by the Syrian government forces and their allies on an area packed with civilians is almost certainly a violation of international law and most likely constitutes war crimes."

He also said the Syrian government "has a clear responsibility to ensure its people are safe, and is palpably failing to take this opportunity to do so."

Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin announced the original truce and evacuation plan late on December 13 at an emergency session of the UN Security Council.

But fierce fighting, air strikes, and artillery barrages shattered the plan shortly before dawn on December 14 before any evacuation materialized.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, and dpa
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