Buses assigned to Syria evacuations attacked, deal stalls

Syrian official news agency SANA smoke rises from green government buses in Idlib province Syria Sunday Dec. 18 2016

Some buses, as well as Red Crescent vehicles, reached the entrance to the villages in Idlib province, which are besieged by insurgents.

Syrian state media agency SANA reported that "terrorist organizations" were behind the attack. A document cited by al-Manar television and passed to Reuters by rebels and activists said the entire deal would see 2,500 citizens leave al-Foua and Kefraya in two batches, in exchange for the evacuation of people from east Aleppo in two corresponding batches.

The French draft calls on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to immediately redeploy United Nations humanitarian staff to carry out "neutral monitoring" on evacuations from besieged parts of Aleppo.

ICRC said it hoped to resume evacuation of civilians Sunday from east Aleppo, the last holdout of rebels in the battered Syrian city.

Most residents of the two villages are Shiite Muslims, while the most powerful anti-government groups in Idlib are hard-line Sunnis. The deal also stipulated the evacuation of 1,500 fighters, injured and sick people from regime-besieged Madaya and Zabadani in Outer Damascus province.

After evacuations were halted on Friday, Russia said it considered the operation to be completed and that no women or children remained in rebel areas of the city.

"In a first step, half of the people besieged in Aleppo will leave, in parallel with the evacuation of 1,250 people from Fuaa", the rebel representative said on condition of anonymity.

About 2,700 children were evacuated in the first rescue mission earlier this week, but hundreds more "are now waiting in freezing temperatures, close to the front lines", said Shusan Mebrahtu of the United Nations agency for children, UNICEF.

Also Sunday, Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said his country would veto a resolution put forward by France to deploy an United Nations monitoring mission in Aleppo to oversee evacuations there, the Associated Press reported. Negotiations between pro-government and opposition forces, as well as their worldwide backers, were believed to have still been going on Sunday to finalise how the evacuations would take place and how many people would leave.

The Observatory said al-Qaeda affiliated Fatah al-Sham Front burned the buses. Militant groups are yet to comment on the attack, however, the Free Syrian Army, a more moderate rebel faction, condemned it as a "reckless" act endangering the lives of almost 50,000 people in east Aleppo.

Zien said evacuees were crammed 70 people to a bus, with many having no room to sit.

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.

Between 40,000 and 50,000 people in all remain inside rebel-held east Aleppo on Sunday waiting for evacuation, sources on the ground told Syria Direct.

A vote is due at the UN Security Council.

Before the draft was circulated to the council, Churkin said on Friday: "If it is a sensible initiative and we see it on paper, why not entertain this initiative?"

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

Russian Federation proposed a rival resolution that would require Syrian government approval before the United Nations could deploy any monitors to eastern Aleppo to check on civilians.

A crackdown by Assad on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 led to civil war and Islamic State militants have used the chaos to seize territory in Syria and Iraq. Nationwide, more than 310,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began.