Around 3,000 leave Aleppo in new evacuation

The UN Security Council will vote Monday on a new draft resolution on sending observers to Aleppo

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An estimated 3,000 people were evacuated from the last rebel-held pocket of Syria's Aleppo early on Monday after hours of delay, a medical official told AFP.

"About 20 buses carrying people from Aleppo have arrived" at the staging ground west of the city, said Dr Ahmad Dbis, who heads a team of doctors and volunteers coordinating evacuations.

Another 25 vehicles arrived less than two hours later, he said, bringing the total evacuated on Monday morning to around 3,000 people.

Dbis said he saw families wrapped in several layers of coats getting off the buses and receiving packs of bottled water and food.

One thin young boy was biting into an apple while his family sat on the cold earth behind him.

More than 30 buses packed with people had waited overnight in freezing temperatures to leave Aleppo under a complex evacuation deal.

Just 350 people were able to leave after Russia and Turkey urged the government to allow five buses to pass its final checkpoint, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The departure of the remaining buses had reportedly been delayed until hundreds of people could be evacuated from two northwestern villages under siege by the rebels.

The Britain-based Observatory said an estimated 500 people were bussed out of Fuaa and Kafraya early on Monday.

"Ten buses carrying about 500 people have left Fuaa and Kafraya and are on their way to government-controlled territory in Aleppo," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

The evacuation deal for Aleppo was brokered by regime ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey, and has been overseen by the International Committee for the Red Cross.

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura estimated that as of Thursday around 40,000 civilians and perhaps as many as 5,000 opposition fighters remained in Aleppo's rebel enclave.

UN Security Council vote

The UN Security Council will vote Monday on a new draft resolution on sending observers to Aleppo after France agreed to take into account Russian concerns in its proposals, diplomats said.

“We expect to vote unanimously for this text tomorrow at 9 a.m.,” (14:00 GMT) said US Ambassador Samantha Power.

Russia, on Sunday, warned it would use its veto to block a French-drafted resolution on sending UN observers to Aleppo, setting up yet another showdown with the West over the fate of the besieged Syrian city.

Moscow presented a rival draft resolution during a closed-door meeting of the Security Council that requests that the United Nations make “arrangements” to monitor the situation, according to the text seen by AFP.

But the Russian proposal makes no specific mention of sending observers to Aleppo, where the evacuation of civilians from the last rebel-held part of the city was set to resume on Sunday. Gunmen attacked buses sent to evacuate people from two pro-regime villages in northwest Syria on Sunday, but a senior military source said the incident should not disrupt parallel evacuations from Aleppo.

“We believe quite simply that what they are proposing is unworkable and dangerous,” Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters about the French proposal.

“We cannot allow it to pass because this is a disaster,” said Churkin ahead of the meeting.

Russia, Syria’s main ally in the nearly six-year war, has vetoed six resolutions on Syria since the conflict began in March 2011.

France circulated a draft text late Friday stating that the council is “alarmed” by the worsening humanitarian crisis in Aleppo and by the fact that “tens of thousands of besieged Aleppo inhabitants” are in need of aid and evacuation.

The measure would task UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with deploying UN staff to Aleppo to monitor evacuations and report on the protection of civilians who remain in the city.

Syrian forces this week moved to assert full control over the east of the city, which had been held by opposition fighters since 2012.
Evacuations that were halted on Friday were expected to resume Sunday under a new deal that would allow civilians and fighters in four other besieged towns to leave.

Hundreds of civilians, including scores of children, have died in east Aleppo during the latest round of fighting. Nationwide, more than 310,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began.