Aleppo evacuation: Rescue buses set alight

  • 19/12/2016

A number of buses containing fighters from east Aleppo and their families have started to leave the last rebel-held sector of the Syrian city, Syrian state television, citing its correspondent in the city, reports.

Syrian state television reported on Sunday that a deal between the government and rebels to evacuate people from east Aleppo in return for the evacuation of people from al-Foua and Kefraya, two villages besieged by insurgents, had started to be implemented.

Some buses and Red Crescent vehicles arrived at the entrance to the villages of al-Foua and Kefraya shortly after the deal was announced, according to al-Manar television, affiliated to the Lebanese group Hezbollah, an ally of Damascus.

However, five buses were attacked and burned on their to the villages, most of whose residents are Shi'ite Muslims, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Syrian state media said.

State media said "armed terrorists", a term it uses for groups fighting against President Bashar al-Assad's rule, carried out the attack. Rebel officials said an angry crowd of people, possibly alongside pro-government forces, was responsible.

The Aleppo evacuation ground to a halt on Friday after a disagreement between rebels and the coalition of forces fighting for Assad's government, who wanted people to be allowed to leave the two villages.

Over 15,000 people gathered in a square in east Aleppo on Sunday to wait for buses to arrive and take them to rebel-held areas outside the city.

Many had spent the night sleeping in the streets in freezing temperatures.

According to Syria's al-Ikhbariya TV news, about 1200 civilians would initially be evacuated from east Aleppo and a similar number from the two villages.

Once evacuees from the villages have safely arrived in government areas, Aleppo fighters and more of their family members will be allowed to leave, in return for subsequent batches of people departing al-Foua and Kefraya, al-Ikhbariya TV reported.

The chaos surrounding the evacuation reflects the complexity of Syria's civil war, with an array of groups and foreign interests involved on all sides.

The United Nations Security Council is due to vote Sunday on a French-drafted resolution aimed at ensuring that UN officials can monitor the evacuations from Aleppo and the protection of civilians who remain.

Those who were evacuated on Thursday were taken to rebel-held districts of the countryside west of Aleppo.

Turkey has said Aleppo evacuees could also be housed in a camp to be constructed near the Turkish border to the north.

The draft UN text, seen by Reuters on Saturday, also "emphasises that the evacuations of civilians must be voluntary and to final destinations of their choice, and protection must be provided to all civilians who choose or who have been forced to be evacuated and those who opt to remain in their homes".