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Evacuation of Aleppo stalls as convoy attacked

The evacuation of eastern Aleppo stalled again on Sunday after a convoy heading for two government-controlled towns came under attack by rebel forces.

According to Syrian state television, the buses were en route to al-Fuaa and Kefraya to collect the sick and injured when they were attacked and torched by opposition fighters.

A video posted online, purporting to be of the aftermath of the convoy attack, shows plumes of black smoke rising above a bus consumed by flames while voices behind the camera cheer.

“The buses here to transport the infidels are set on fire,” says a man’s voice. “We will burn whoever will come to transport them.”

The attack came as busses arrived in the eastern, rebel-held part of Aleppo to evacuate civilians, after a previous agreement broke-down on Friday, leaving thousands stranded in the besieged part of the city.

On Sunday Russia said it would veto a French-drafted UN Security Council resolution aimed at ensuring that UN officials can monitor evacuations from the besieged districts of Aleppo and instead proposed a rival text it believes could achieve the same goal.

Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, raised concerns that the French-drafted resolution did not account for the preparation needed for UN officials to be able to monitor evacuations and the protection of civilians who remain.

According to residents inside Aleppo, after the attack on the convoy heading to al-Fuaa and Kefraya, evacuations from Aleppo also stopped. However, Syrian state television reported that convoys had left Aleppo for Idlib on Sunday.

Tens of thousands of people may still be trapped in the rebel-held part of the city. An initial agreement broke down before the evacuation even started. A second agreement saw thousands of rebel fighters, their families and other civilians from eastern Aleppo transported to opposition-controlled parts of Idlib province, before it too broke down.

“All sides should do everything in their power to make sure the evacuations go smoothly and there is safe passage for these civilians who choose to leave eastern Aleppo,” said Hadeel Al-Shalchi, a Syria researcher with Human Rights Watch.

The warring parties have blamed each other for the successive breakdowns.

“People don’t trust any deal now,” said Abdulkafi al-Hamdo, a teacher and activist in Aleppo, who described people waiting for busses for hours in the bitter cold.

People don’t trust any deal now

Mr al-Hamdo said the decision to be evacuated would be difficult for him. Under the agreement, east Aleppo residents are supposed be transferred to rebel-held parts of Idlib province and there should be an amnesty for opposition fighters. But he fears he may face arrest, in part for speaking to the media.

Some of those who have fled the city in recent weeks have accused the government of President Bashar al-Assad and his allied forces of abuse, arbitrary detention and killing civilians.

Ms Al-Shalchi said having independent monitors in Aleppo was crucial.

Via FT