Russia threatens to veto French draft resolution on UN observers in Aleppo
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Russia is prepared to use its veto to block a French-drafted resolution on sending UN observers to Aleppo to monitor evacuations and help protect civilians, Moscow's envoy to the UN said Sunday, as evacuations resumed following a new deal.
Speaking to reporters in New York Sunday, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said Moscow would veto the French draft resolution, "because this is a disaster". He did however say: "There could be another thing which could be adopted today by the Security Council, which would accomplish the same goals."
Russia then circulated its own draft resolution calling on the UN to make "arrangements" to "monitor the condition of civilians remaining in Aleppo". But it did not mention the deployment of observers, according to diplomats.
The UN Security Council was set to meet for closed-door consultations Sunday followed by a vote on the proposals.
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.
Rebels, government hammer out new evacuation deal
Efforts to hammer out a consensus at the UN came as evacuations from Aleppo resumed Sunday afternoon following protracted negotiations between rebels, the Syrian government and their respective backers.
Dozens of buses, under the supervision of the Red Crescent and the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) began entering the last rebel-held parts of eastern Aleppo on Sunday to resume the evacuations, according to Syrian state news agency SANA.
The main obstacle to a resumption had been a disagreement over quid pro quo evacuations in the rebel-held, mostly Shiite towns of Kefraya and Foua in Idlib province as well as the towns of Madaya and Zabadani, which are also held by the rebels, but surrounded by government-controlled territory.
Reporting from Beirut in neighbouring Lebanon, FRANCE 24’s Adam Pletts said details of the evacuation deal were starting to emerge. “It looks like this process will now be in three steps. The first of which will be to evacuate half of the people from Aleppo and simultaneously, 1,250 people from the government loyalist town of Foua. Then the second set of evacuations will start in Aleppo together with another 1,250 people this time from Kefraya, another government loyalist town. And then, as a third step, 1,500 people will be evacuated from both Kefraya and Foua in exchange for 1,500 people from the towns of Medea and Zabadani, two towns further south in Syria on the border with Lebanon…It’s a more complicated process now but they’ve come to this more structured arrangement specifying what should happen. Perhaps that’s a good sign that the evacuations will now have some sort of a timetable.”
Buses burned near Shiite dominated towns
Earlier Sunday, the evacuation stalled after several buses en route to Foua and Kefraya were attacked and burned, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as well as Syrian state television.
The Free Syrian Army, a nationalist opposition alliance, said the attack on the buses was carried out by individuals not affiliated to it. Obstructing the evacuation process in this way was a "reckless" act which put the lives of thousands of trapped people in danger, it said in a statement.
Syrian state media, which broadcast footage of burning green buses, said "armed terrorists" - a term it uses for insurgent groups fighting against Assad's rule - attacked five buses and burned and destroyed them.
Pro-Damascus Mayadeen television said the group formerly known as the Nusra Front was behind the attack. Local residents told Reuters this was not the case.
The group had previously said it had not agreed to the evacuation of the two villages, most of whose residents are Shiite Muslims.
Videos broadcast on social media showed men with guns cheering and shouting "God is great" as the buses burned.
Rebel officials said an angry crowd of people, possibly alongside pro-government "operatives", carried out the attack.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)