AMMAN: The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a resolution on Monday to deploy international observers who will monitor the evacuation of an estimated 35,000 people from rebel-held east Aleppo city to nearby opposition areas.
The vote came as thousands of people were evacuated from east Aleppo and two rebel-blockaded towns in Idlib province as part of a deal brokered last week by Russia and Turkey.
Resolution 2328 also calls for “safe evacuation in accordance with international humanitarian law and principles…[and] immediate and unconditional access of humanitarian assistance…[and] protection of medical facilities and personnel,” France’s UN envoy Francois Delattre told a press conference on Sunday, one day before the vote.
All members of the Security Council, including Syria’s steadfast ally Russia, voted to approve the resolution.
In a press conference immediately following the vote, Syria’s UN representative Bashaar Jaafari criticized the move.
“While we respect the Security Council resolutions, we are aware of the real purpose of their efforts, which is to protect the terrorists…not the Syrian people,” said Jaafari.The evacuation was already taking place, he said, adding that “Aleppo this evening will be clean.”
At time of publication, more than 70 buses carrying civilians, fighters and the wounded from rebel-held east Aleppo city had arrived at the rebel-held Rashideen district southwest of the city, sources on the ground told Syria Direct.
The evacuation was underway on Monday despite an attack on buses in opposition-held Idlib province the day before that threatened to derail it.
East Aleppo residents wait for evacuation on Monday. Photo courtesy of Halab Today
Some 4,500 people have left east Aleppo city since 12AM on Monday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted on Monday, bringing the total number of people evacuated since last Thursday to 12,000.
If the numbers are correct, it would leave roughly 35,000 people in the rebel-held pocket.
Among those to leave east Aleppo on Monday was Bana al-Abed, a seven-year-old girl whose tweets drew attention to the situation in east Aleppo in recent weeks. Some 50 orphans under the care of the only orphanage in the rebel-held part of the city have also left, according to activists.
In a parallel evacuation, at least 500 residents of al-Fuaa and Kufraya, rebel-blockaded, Shiite-majority towns in Idlib, travelled to regime-held Aleppo city on Monday. The evacuees were primarily “children, women, the sick and injured,” according to local pro-regime Facebook news page N.Z.F.K.
Syrian state news agency SANA confirmed that the evacuation was delayed “more than 10 hours because takfiri terrorist organizations targeted several buses Sunday.”
Buses sent to evacuate residents of al-Fuaa and Kufraya were attacked by armed assailants and burned on Sunday, sources in Idlib told Syria Direct at the time, amidst conflicting reports as to who carried out the attack.
On Monday, Islamist rebel faction Ahrar a-Sham and Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigades in Idlib “accompanied the buses” loaded up with Shiite passengers as they left the pro-regime blockaded towns, Ahmad Sheikhou, an Idlib civil defense spokesman told Syria Direct. The escort was “to protect them until they reached Aleppo,” he said.
‘People want this nightmare to end’
The 10-hour delay in evacuations after Sunday’s bus attacks near Fuaa and Kufraya cost east Aleppo residents, many of whom had waited for days in bitterly cold weather to evacuate the city.
The on-and-off evacuations, delays and attacks on both sides since an initial ceasefire and evacuation deal went into effect last week has exhausted those remaining in the city, Adeeb Mansour, a civilian who left Aleppo with his parents on Sunday for the rebel-held southwest countryside told Syria Direct.
“People are psychologically exhausted, frustrated,” Mansour said. “Imagine sleeping rough on the pavement for four days in the bitter cold, waiting for the buses…people want this nightmare to end.”
Temperatures have dropped below freezing in Aleppo in recent days. Pictures posted from inside east Aleppo on Sunday night show residents sheltering in the ruins of their city in what look like medieval conditions, warming themselves around fires. They were waiting to leave.
“People were afraid that the buses would come and they would miss them,” said Mansour.
The first round of evacuees leaves al-Fuaa and Kufraya early Monday morning. Photo courtesy of N.Z.F.K.
When Mansour and his parents finally made it onto a bus at 1PM on Sunday afternoon, “I breathed a sigh of relief,” he told Syria Direct. “There were throngs of people on the bus, people wanting to get on any way they can.”
Then the bus attacks in Fuaa and Kufraya happened, and Mansour, his parents and the other passengers in the five-bus convoy scheduled to leave east Aleppo on Sunday were stuck for 10 hours, he said.
“People were horrified that the regime would retaliate against us for the bus attack in Idlib,” said Mansour.
After “10 hours of fear,” the buses finally moved at roughly midnight, and—20 hours after boarding the bus—Mansour arrived in Atareb, rebel-held Aleppo province, at 9am Monday.
Since the first, ill-fated convoy on Sunday, subsequent evacuations throughout the day on Monday went “quickly and smoothly,” Muhammad al-Halabi, an activist who was evacuated from east Aleppo to the rebel-held southwest countryside told Syria Direct on Monday.