The Latest: 1st Aleppo evacuees in 2 days reported

AP News
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Posted: Dec 18, 2016 6:05 PM
The Latest: 1st Aleppo evacuees in 2 days reported

BEIRUT (AP) — The latest on the conflict in Syria (all times local):

1 a.m.

A Syrian war monitoring group says the first convoy to evacuate civilians and fighters from eastern Aleppo in over 48 hours has arrived safely to the Aleppo countryside.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said shortly before midnight Sunday that government forces allowed five buses to leave Aleppo. An attack on a separate convoy of buses earlier in the day had cast doubt on the fate of the evacuations.

Thousands of Syrians are in need of evacuation from the government's siege of the opposition's last foothold in Aleppo, once the country's commercial capital and its largest city. Rebels surrendered the enclave to the government in a deal brokered in Turkey last week that would evacuate fighters and civilians unwilling to return to living under government authority.

But the evacuations have moved along at a halting pace. Several thousand were able to leave the city at midweek but this was only a fraction of total in need. The government's side obstructed evacuations Friday to demand simultaneous evacuations of the sick and wounded from two nearby villages, Fouah and Kefarya, that are besieged by rebels.

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12:15 a.m.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations says a compromise Security Council resolution to be voted on Monday would quickly put over 100 U.N. personnel on the ground to monitor evacuations from Aleppo, the former rebel stronghold now under Syrian government control.

Ambassador Samantha Power told reporters that following the siege in eastern Aleppo there have been "many, many reports of people being pulled off buses and disappeared, whether into conscription or into torture chambers or killed outright."

She says the United Nations doesn't know the facts because it's not there, but if U.N. monitors are deployed it could deter "some of the worst excesses."

France and Russia announced agreement on a draft resolution after Security Council negotiations Sunday. A vote is scheduled for Monday morning.

Power says that "the text contains all the elements for safe, secure, dignified evacuation, for humanitarian access to those who choose to remain in eastern Aleppo" and for protecting civilians.

If the resolution is adopted and works, Power predicts a rapid exodus of people from eastern Aleppo on buses with monitors that pass through monitored checkpoints.

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11:30 p.m.

A senior Russian diplomat says the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran will meet in Moscow to discuss Syria.

Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Sunday in remarks carried by the Tass news agency that the meeting will take place Tuesday.

He said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed plans for the meeting in a phone call with his counterparts from Turkey and Iran and they welcomed the idea.

Earlier reports said the meeting would be held Dec. 27.

Russia and Iran have backed Syrian President Bashar Assad throughout the nearly six-year Syrian conflict, while Turkey has supported Assad's foes.

Russian and Turkey have recently narrowed their differences on Syria and co-sponsored an agreement for the withdrawal of rebels and civilians from Aleppo. Thousands left the rebel-controlled neighborhoods of Aleppo on Thursday, but many others are still trapped in eastern Aleppo.

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11 p.m.

A compromise U.N. resolution to be put to a vote calls for the United Nations and other institutions to monitor evacuations from eastern Aleppo and demands that the U.N. chief urgently consult Syria and other parties on arrangements for immediate deployment of the monitors.

The agreed text also demands that all parties allow unconditional and immediate access for the U.N. and its partners to deliver humanitarian aid and medical care "and respect and protect all civilians across Aleppo and throughout Syria."

France and Russia initially submitted rival draft resolutions, then announced agreement on a text after more than three hours of closed-door consultations by the U.N. Security Council on Sunday. The final draft is expected to be put to a vote at 9 a.m. EST Monday.

The text was obtained by The Associated Press. It expresses alarm at "the continued deterioration of the devastating humanitarian situation in Aleppo and by the fact that urgent humanitarian evacuations and assistance are now needed by a large number of Aleppo inhabitants."

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10:15 p.m.

Russia and France have announced agreement on a compromise U.N. resolution to deploy U.N. monitors to eastern Aleppo to ensure safe evacuations and immediate delivery of humanitarian aid.

France's U.N. ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters after more than three hours of closed consultations Sunday that the Security Council will vote on the compromise resolution at 9 a.m. EST on Monday.

He said some countries want to report to their capitals overnight and "hopefully we'll have a positive vote" but he said he was still "cautious at this stage."

Russia's U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters before consultations that Moscow could not accept the French draft resolution unless it was changed and he presented council members with a rival text.

As he left consultations Sunday afternoon, Churkin told reporters: "I think we put in some good hours of work and I think we have a good text, and we're going to vote tomorrow morning."

Delattre said approval of the resolution "would give us collectively the tools to avoid ... a situation in which after the end of major military operations, forces including militias, would commit mass atrocities."

He said it would also "give us some leverage to try to open the way to a broader cease-fire and toward political negotiations."

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9:45 p.m.

Activists say hundreds of Syrians anxiously awaiting evacuation from east Aleppo have been trapped for over eight hours in a no-man's-land between rebel and government control, without food or water.

East Aleppo resident Rami Zien, who says he is on one of the buses "stopped a no-man's land", told The Associated Press via messenger service that evacuees were stressed and frightened.

"Government forces are just ahead of me and if anything goes wrong I'll be the first to die," he wrote.

Zien said evacuees are crammed, 70 people to a bus, with many having no room to sit. He said the Red Crescent, which is facilitating the evacuation, has been unable to provide water. He said there are between 50-to-60 buses in the convoy.

Thousands of civilians and fighters are awaiting urgent evacuation from Syria's largest city after rebels surrendered their last foothold in city to government control in a deal brokered in Ankara last week.

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8:15 p.m.

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

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters as he headed into closed Security Council consultations earlier Sunday that he would veto a French-drafted resolution unless it was changed.

The French draft calls on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to immediately redeploy U.N. humanitarian staff to carry out "neutral monitoring" on evacuations from besieged parts of Aleppo. It also calls on Ban to take urgent steps to enable the U.N. and its partners to observe "the well-being of civilians," and whether international law is being respected.

The Russian draft eliminates any U.N. monitoring of the evacuation of civilians from Aleppo.

It only asks the secretary-general to provide security and other arrangements "in coordination with the interested parties" — which include the Syrian government now in control of eastern Aleppo — to allow U.N. personnel "to monitor the condition of civilians remaining in Aleppo in light of international humanitarian law."

Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because consultations are closed, said Security Council members were discussing whether it is possible to merge the two texts.

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7:30 p.m.

France's U.N. ambassador says the goal of its U.N. resolution is to avoid "mass atrocities" by Syrian forces, and especially militias, in eastern Aleppo which is now defenseless following the defeat of rebel forces.

He told reporters before heading into closed Security Council consultations on the French-drafted resolution Sunday that its demands — safe evacuations, immediate and unconditional U.N. access to deliver humanitarian aid, and protection of medical facilities and personnel — "are very difficult to compromise."

Delattre stressed that "it's a humanitarian resolution to save lives."

Russia's U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he will veto the resolution unless it is changed, arguing that allowing monitors to wander in the ruins of eastern Aleppo without proper preparation "has disaster written all over it."

Delattre said "our goal is to avoid another or a new Srebrenica," a reference to the massacre of nearly 8,000 Bosnian Muslims who sought protection in the U.N. safe haven of Srebrenica in 1995 during the Bosnian war.

If Russia vetoes the resolution, he said France will seek an emergency special session of the U.N. General Assembly.

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6:40 p.m.

Russia says it will veto a French-drafted U.N. resolution demanding immediate access to besieged areas of Aleppo and "neutral monitoring" of the evacuation of civilians.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters before Security Council consultations on the draft resolution Sunday that Moscow has no problem with any kind of monitoring.

But he said the idea that monitors "should be told to go to wander around the ruins of eastern Aleppo without proper preparation and without informing everybody about what is going to happen — it has disaster written all over it."

He says Russia has "some very simple ideas" — which he refused to disclose — to put to council members, and that if they agree a resolution could be adopted Sunday.

But France's U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre said he intends to put the draft to a vote immediately after consultations and indicated he wouldn't accept any changes.

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4 p.m.

Activists say militants have burned at least five buses assigned to evacuate wounded and sick people from two villages in northern Syria. The incident could scuttle a wider deal that encompasses the evacuation of thousands of trapped rebel fighters and civilians from the last opposition foothold in east Aleppo.

The opposition's Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday that the al-Qaida affiliated Fatah al-Sham Front burned buses assigned to evacuate people from the rebel-besieged villages of Foua and Kfarya.

Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group fighting alongside Syria's government, says the buses were burned during fighting between the al-Qaida-affiliated Fatah al-Sham Front and a rebel group that supported the evacuations.

The Observatory says six buses were burned while Hezbollah's media outlet put the number at five.

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3 p.m.

The head of Israel's official Holocaust memorial says the world must put an end to the killing in Syria.

Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev's comments Sunday marked a rare venture into contemporary affairs for a body devoted to commemorating the World War II genocide of 6 million Jews. Speaking at an academic conference devoted to the plight of Jewish refugees in the Holocaust, Shalev expressed "deep concern over the appalling images of massacres of human beings" in Syria.

He noted how after World War II world leaders enacted universal principles and instituted organizations aimed at preventing future crimes against humanity. Shalev says "the global community must put a stop to these atrocities and avert further suffering as well as provide humanitarian assistance to the victims seeking safe haven."

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2 p.m.

Syrian media says buses and ambulances are preparing to enter east Aleppo to resume evacuating rebels and civilians from the opposition's remaining districts in the city.

Pro-government Al-Ikhbariya TV says Sunday that convoys are also preparing to evacuate over 2,000 wounded and sick residents from the northern Syrian villages of Foua and Kfarya , which are besieged by rebels.

In Aleppo, English teacher Wissam Zarqa says families have been assigned bus numbers and are preparing to evacuate after pro-government forces halted operations on Friday.

The government's side said it wanted simultaneous evacuations from Foua and Kfarya. Several thousand civilians evacuated Aleppo Thursday before the process was halted.

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10 a.m.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to vote on a resolution demanding immediate and unconditional access for the United Nations and its partners to besieged parts of Aleppo and throughout Syria to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The council scheduled consultations Sunday morning on the French-drafted resolution followed by an open meeting where members are expected to vote.

The draft resolution, obtained by The Associated Press, calls on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to immediately redeploy U.N. staff already on the ground to carry out "neutral monitoring" and "direct observation and to report on evacuations."

It stresses that evacuations of civilians "must be voluntary and to destinations of their choice"

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Friday he would examine the draft but was skeptical that monitors could be deployed quickly.