Evacuation of Aleppo Falters as Islamists Set Fire to Convoy of Rescue Buses

Activists said militants have burned at least five buses assigned to evacuate wounded and sick people from two villages in northern Syria.  (Syrian Arab News Agency via AP)
Activists said militants have burned at least five buses assigned to evacuate wounded and sick people from two villages in northern Syria. (Syrian Arab News Agency via AP)

Evacuation efforts in Syria were on the verge of fresh collapse Sunday, with thousands of people trapped inside the shattered rebel enclave of Aleppo after gunmen burned a rescue convoy bound for government areas in a neighboring province.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said evacuations were postponed for an “unknown” period, deepening abject suffering inside eastern Aleppo as the United Nations thrashed out ways to resolve the crisis.

After more than three hours of closed consultations, France and Russia said Sunday that they had agreed on a U.N. Security Council resolution to deploy international monitors to eastern Aleppo to ensure safe evacuations and immediate delivery of humanitarian aid.

Negotiations to revive a complicated exit deal for civilians and fighters in Aleppo have broken down repeatedly since forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad forced the rebels’ effective surrender there last week, amid abuses by government and rebel loyalists along the evacuation routes.

And Sunday, hours after the International Committee of the Red Cross said it was hopeful that evacuations could resume, a fresh hurdle emerged: Video footage from the northwestern province of Idlib showed smoke and fire billowing from a convoy of repurposed school buses bound for Fouaa and Kefraya, Shiite villages besieged by rebels that have taken on great symbolic importance for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian backers. Islamist fighters had set fire to the buses, which were sent to evacuate hundreds of wounded people from those government-held villages.

Iran, a Shiite power, had demanded that the area be evacuated as part of the broader deal allowing thousands of people to leave what remains of the rebel-held eastern areas of Aleppo.

“You pigs are here to help Shiites. You won’t leave alive,” a man is heard saying off camera in one of the video clips. Although the identity of the attackers is not clear, reports suggest that they had the backing of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, an al-Qaeda-linked Sunni group with significant influence in Idlib.

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SOURCE: Louisa Loveluck 
The Washington Post