Trapped civilians and rebels waited desperately on Sunday for evacuations to resume from an opposition-held enclave in Aleppo, as the UN Security Council prepared to vote on sending observers to the flashpoint Syrian city. A rebel representative told AFP an agreement had been reached to allow more people to leave the city which has been ravaged by some of the worst violence of the nearly six-year war that has killed more than 310,000 people.
But there was no confirmation from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime or its staunch allies Russia and Iran, which are under mounting international pressure to end what US President Barack Obama denounced as the “horror” in Aleppo. The UN Security Council was set to meet at 11:00 am (local time) to vote on French proposals to dispatch monitors to oversee evacuations and report on the protection of civilians, but faced resistance from veto-wielding Russia.
French Ambassador Francois Delattre said an international presence would prevent Aleppo from turning into another Srebrenica, where thousands of Bosnian men and boys were massacred in 1995 when the town fell to Bosnian Serb forces during the Balkan wars. “Our goal through this resolution is to avoid another Srebrenica in this phase immediately following the military operations,” Delattre told AFP.
Families spent the night in freezing temperatures in bombed out apartment blocks in Aleppo’s Al-Amiriyah district, the departure point for evacuations before they were halted on Friday, an AFP correspondent reported. Abu Omar said that after waiting outside in the cold for nine hours the previous day, he had returned yesterday only to be told the buses were not coming.
“There’s no more food or drinking water, and the situation is getting worse by the day,” he said, adding that his four children were sick because of the cold. Dozens of trucks with humanitarian aid crossed the Turkish border Saturday into Syria, piling supplies in a buffer zone. The government blamed rebels for the suspension of the evacuation which began on Thursday, saying they had tried to smuggle out heavier weapons and hostages.
The opposition accused the government of halting the operation to try to secure the evacuation of residents from Fuaa and Kafraya, two villages under rebel siege in northwestern Syria. In return, the rebels want the evacuation of the towns of Madaya and Zabadani in Damascus province which are besieged by the regime.
Al-Farook Abu Bakr, of the hardline Islamist rebel group Ahrar al-Sham, said a deal had been reached for evacuations to resume. “There will be evacuations from Fuaa and Kafraya, as well as Madaya and Zabadani, and all the residents of Aleppo and the fighters will leave,” he said.
But the government did not announce any deal. UN envoy Staffan de Mistura estimated that as of Thursday around 40,000 civilians and perhaps as many as 5,000 opposition fighters remained in Aleppo’s rebel enclave. A Turkish official said 90 wounded from Aleppo have crossed into Turkey for treatment since Thursday.
Before evacuations were suspended around 8,500 people, including some 3,000 fighters, left for rebel-held territory elsewhere in the north, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.