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Syria evacuations postponed after buses torched in Idlib

Gunmen torched several buses headed to Fouaa and Kfaraya [Twitter]

Date of publication: 19 December, 2016

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Evacuations from east Aleppo and two pro-government villages were postponed Sunday after gunmen torched a number of buses in Idlib province, while world powers discussed a resolution on UN observers.

The evacuations of fighters and civilians from east Aleppo and two pro-government Shia villages under rebel siege in northwestern Syria have been postponed until further notice, a monitor said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the move was decided after gunmen attacked buses sent to evacuate people from the villages of Fouaa and Kafraya, which are under rebel siege,  and in the "absence of security guarantees for the evacuees".

One of the bus drivers was killed in the incident, the Observatory said.

Yasser al-Youssef of the Nureddin al-Zinki rebel group confirmed that "the evacuations have been momentarily suspended".

The Observatory said buses would not leave the rebel areas of Aleppo until residents of Fouaa and Kafraya were also able to leave.

Gunmen on Sunday ordered drivers out of their vehicles and opened fire on the buses - setting fire to fuel tanks of at least 20 buses, according to reports.

Thousands of people were to leave the last rebel-held parts of the northern city of Aleppo in exchange for residents leaving the two pro-government villages.

The attack has left up to 50,000 civilians trapped in rebel-held East Aleppo and thousands more in the two regime towns, where the truce agreement has been repeatedly broken over the weekend.

Aleppo has seen some of the worst violence of the nearly six-year war that has killed more than 400,000 people.

Since 2012, Assad's regime has launched numerous bids to recapture opposition-held areas of Aleppo, resorting to near-daily airstrikes and barrel bomb attacks despite UN criticism.

Then last month, Russian-backed regime forces stepped up the offensive in a bid to crush the rebellion there once and for all.

International monitors

Meanwhile, Russia and France announced an agreement on a compromise UN resolution to deploy monitors to east Aleppo to ensure safe evacuations and immediate delivery of humanitarian aid.

France's UN ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters after more than three hours of closed consultations Sunday that the Security Council will vote on the compromise resolution 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 UN 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 ceasefire and toward political negotiations."

Agencies contributed to this report.

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