UN Official Lambasts Jihadists for Imperiling Aleppo Evacuation
By Jamie Dettmer December 18, 2016
The United Nations humanitarian adviser for Syria, Jan Egeland, lashed out Sunday at al-Qaida-aligned rebel fighters for upending a fragile evacuation deal for civilians in Aleppo, labeling the jihadists as "reckless."
Egeland warned their burning earlier in the day of buses that were meant to evacuate Shi'ites from two small towns neighboring Aleppo risked imperiling all relief efforts.
"Reckless armed men burning buses for Foua and Kefraya undermine evacuation and relief for all civilians in besieged areas in Syria," he complained in a Twitter post.
Buses headed to evacuate Foua and Kefraya, two Shi'ite towns that have been besieged for months by rebel fighters, were attacked and burned Sunday, Syrian state media and an independent monitoring group reported.
The vehicles were en route to transport more than 2,000 sick and injured people from the towns in northwest Idlib province, as part of a deal to resume the evacuation of eastern Aleppo, where an estimated 40,000 civilians and rebel fighters have remain trapped in a small enclave since Friday.
Forces fighting for the government of President Bashar al-Assad are demanding that people be allowed to leave Foua and Kefraya in exchange for allowing rebels and civilians to leave eastern Aleppo. The London-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday that the rebel group Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly known as the Nusra Front, was behind the bus burnings.
Reuters news agency reported that other buses and Syrian Red Crescent vehicles reached the entrance to the towns as hope mounted that the people-swap plan would be resumed. But by early evening there had been no resumption of evacuations, condemning those trapped in eastern Aleppo to yet another night of sub-freezing temperatures.
In the last remaining hospital in the enclave, doctors struggled Sunday to save the life of a pregnant mother and her baby by performing a cesarian section. "We tried to evacuate her but we couldn't," said a medic. "We were able to get the baby out but both are dead," he added.
The U.N. Security Council was expected to vote Sunday on whether to send observers to the war-ravaged Syrian city to oversee evacuations and to help provide protection for the civilians who remain. But that vote was postponed until Monday.
The Security Council will consider a French proposal that expresses alarm at the worsening humanitarian crisis, and for the "tens of thousands of besieged Aleppo inhabitants" in need of evacuation. But Western diplomats told VOA they hold out little hope that the proposal will be approved by Russia, an ally of Syria's president and a veto wielding member of the council. Moscow has vetoed six resolutions on Syria since the conflict began in 2011.
Evacuations were suspend from eastern Aleppo Friday by the government in Damascus as rebel groups, international organizations and the Assad regime traded accusations about who was to blame.
Russia said the operation to evacuate civilians and insurgents from eastern Aleppo was complete, but opposition leaders said thousands still want to flee and accused Iranian militias and Hezbollah of executing several men in the last convoy to leave the city.
According to Syrian opposition leaders, the convoy carrying 800 people, including rebel fighters, was stopped by Iranian commanded militiamen in the Jisr al-Haj district. They forcibly disarmed the insurgents in breach of an agreement and seized a team of civil defense workers overseeing the convoy evacuation, killing three of them.
"Militias forced everyone to get off the buses, confiscated all individual weapons, forced men to get undressed to their underwear, killed three men and wounded seven others, then forced the convoy to go back to the besieged area of Aleppo city, and some buses are still missing," said a witness, Ahmad Abo Al-Nour.
On Saturday, civilians and rebel fighters waiting for buses to evacuate them were shot at by Iranian-led militias loyal to Assad, according to activists.
An agreement struck Saturday was to give safe passage to those loyal to Assad's regime, including Iranian militia groups, from areas held or besieged by rebels, the Aleppo Media Center activist group said.
It was a new demand in exchange for the evacuation of civilians, rebels and others loyal to the opposition from eastern Aleppo, now almost entirely in government control.
Abdulkafi al-Hamdo, a teacher trapped in eastern Aleppo said he has no choice but to try to leave with a young daughter. "The weather is so cold," he said. "The children are hungry they are crying. They are freezing." He said people are afraid they will not be able to get out."
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