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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Final Aleppo Evacuations Resume

By VOA News December 21, 2016

The final evacuations of rebels and civilians from the northern city of Aleppo have resumed after being delayed for one day. "The buses are now moving again from east Aleppo," a U.N. official in Syria told Reuters.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 60 buses were ready to evacuate 3,000 people from freezing temperatures in eastern Aleppo in what would be the final step of rebels leaving the part of Aleppo they seized four years ago. But the buses were held up due to a last minute snag in the evacuation agreement.

The complete evacuation of the rebel-held enclave will give full control of Aleppo to Syrian President Barshar al-Assad, a milestone in the nearly six-year old civil war.

The evacuations are being conducted under an agreement negotiated by Russia and Turkey that also called for people to leave two villages in Idlib province that have been under rebel siege.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday more than 37,000 people had been evacuated from Aleppo, and the goal was to have all the remaining evacuations completed by Wednesday.

After a meeting in Moscow among the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters the three nations used their influence to force the evacuation, suggesting they have become the main powerbrokers in Syria's nearly six-year conflict.

The foreign ministers drafted a proposal that Russia said amounts to a blueprint for a cease-fire in Syria and potentially an end to the war.The urgency for Russia intensified after its ambassador to Turkey was assassinated Monday in Ankara by a man shouting "Don't forget Aleppo."

Broad cease-fire sought

The foreign ministers agreed to guarantee peace talks and to expand the cease-fire throughout Syria. But the broader cease-fire would exclude the militant groups Islamic State, the Fatah al-Sham Front and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which supports the Syrian government.

"Iran, Russia and Turkey are ready to assist in preparing the agreement in the making between the Syrian government and the opposition and to become its guarantor," Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said in a joint statement from the three countries.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israel would consider bringing wounded refugees from Aleppo to Israeli hospitals for treatment. "I've asked the foreign ministry to seek ways to expand our medical assistance to the civilian causalities of the Syrian tragedy, specifically in Aleppo. "Israel has treated many wounded in the Syrian civil war over the past three years, although Israel and Syrian are formally in a state of war.

UN monitors

The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Monday urging the immediate deployment of U.N. monitors to observe the evacuations from Aleppo.The U.N. said Tuesday 20 additional monitors will be sent to Aleppo. "This will almost triple the number of international staff currently deployed in Aleppo, U.N. spokesman Jens Laerke said at a Geneva news conference. The U.N. monitors are in Damascus and Laerke said they will travel to Aleppo "as soon as possible."

More than 70 percent of the buildings in the western Aleppo countryside have been destroyed and there is an acute shortage of food and medical supplies there too, according to opposition leaders and activists.

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