Monitors needed for evacuations in Aleppo: UN

Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari says "the last terrorists in some districts of the eastern part of Aleppo are evacuating their strongholds and Aleppo this evening will be clean". VIDEO: REUTERS
A deal saw civilians from two villages besieged by rebels being evacuated in exchange for safe passage for those trapped in rebel-held parts of Aleppo.
A deal saw civilians from two villages besieged by rebels being evacuated in exchange for safe passage for those trapped in rebel-held parts of Aleppo.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Relief effort resumes after deal struck over besieged pro-government villages

UNITED NATIONS • The United Nations Security Council unanimously called yesterday for UN officials and others to monitor evacuations from eastern Aleppo .

The 15-member council adopted a French-drafted resolution that "demands all parties to provide these monitors with safe, immediate and unimpeded access" and also called for the safety of civilians who remain in the Syrian city.

France's foreign minister said that the adoption was only a first step and that all sides - especially the Syrian government and its allies - needed to implement it immediately.

"France calls on each side, in particular the regime and its supporters, to be responsible so that this resolution is implemented without delay and a lasting ceasefire is put in place across the country," Mr Jean-Marc Ayrault said.

Thousands were evacuated from the last rebel-held enclave of Aleppo yesterday after a deal was reached to allow people to leave two besieged pro-government villages in nearby Idlib province.

Convoys of buses from eastern Aleppo reached rebel-held areas of countryside to the west of the city in cold winter weather, according to a UN official and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

TOO LATE

Some evacuees told us that a few children died from the long wait and the intense cold while they were waiting to evacuate.

MR AHMAD AL-DBIS, a medical aid worker heading a team evacuating patients from Aleppo, who said 89 buses had left the city.

At the same time, 10 buses left the Shi'ite Muslim villages of al- Foua and Kefraya, north of Idlib, for government lines in Aleppo, said the sources.

The recapture of Aleppo is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's biggest victory so far in the nearly six- year-old war, but the fighting is by no means over, with large tracts of the country still under the control of insurgent and Islamist groups.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said some 20,000 civilians had been evacuated from Aleppo so far.

The UN said nearly 50 children, some critically injured, were rescued from eastern Aleppo, where they had been trapped in an orphanage.

The Syrian army and its allies had demanded the evacuation of civilians - including wounded people - from the two villages before they would allow fighters and civilians trapped in Aleppo to depart.

The stand-off halted the Aleppo evacuation over the weekend.

"Complex evacuations from East Aleppo and Foua & Kefraya now in full swing. More than 900 buses needed to evacuate all. We must not fail," Mr Jan Egeland, who chairs the UN aid task force in Syria, tweeted.

Mr Ahmad al-Dbis, a medical aid worker heading a team evacuating patients from Aleppo, said that 89 buses had left the city.

"Some evacuees told us that a few children died from the long wait and the intense cold while they were waiting to evacuate," he said.

For those still waiting to leave rebel-held Aleppo, conditions were grim, according to Mr Aref al-Aref, a nurse and photographer there. "I'm still in Aleppo. I'm waiting for them to evacuate the children and women first. It's very cold and there's hunger. It's a long wait," he said.

Photographs of people evacuated from Aleppo showed large groups of people standing or crouching with their belongings or loading sacks onto trucks before heading off to further destinations.

Children, dressed in winter clothes against the cold, carried small backpacks or played with kittens. An older man, wearing traditional Arab robes and headdress, sat holding a stick.

The foreign and defence ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey will hold talks in Moscow today aimed at giving fresh impetus for a solution in Aleppo.

At stake is the fate of thousands of people who are still stuck in the last rebel bastion in Aleppo after a series of sudden advances by the Syrian army and allied Shi'ite militias under an intense bombardment that pulverised large sections of the city.

They have been waiting for the chance to leave Aleppo since the ceasefire and evacuation deal was agreed on last Tuesday, but have been prevented from doing so during days of hold-ups. The weather in Aleppo has been wet and cold, with little shelter and few services in the tiny rebel zone.

In the square in Aleppo's Sukari district, organisers gave every family a number to allow them access to buses. "Everyone is waiting until they are evacuated. They just want to escape," said Mr Salah al Attar, a former teacher waiting with his five children, wife and mother.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 20, 2016, with the headline 'Monitors needed for evacuations in Aleppo: UN'. Print Edition | Subscribe