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French Syria motion at UN Security Council as Aleppo evacuation stalls again

Civilians and fighters wait to be evacuated from east Aleppo on 16 December Reuters/Abdalrhman Ismail

The evacuation of thousands of civilians and rebel fighters from Aleppo stalled again on Sunday morning, ahead of a UN Security Council debate on a French resolution on the Syrian conflict.

Syrian state TV announced a new agreement in the afternoon and later reported buses carrying fighters and their families leaving the city.

Plans to evacuate Aleppo were held up earlier on Sunday by a disagreement over the number of people to be moved out of two Shia-Muslim majority towns besieged by rebels in Idlib province.

Foua and Kafraya were supposed to be evacuated at the same time as east Aleppo but, while the rebels who hold the towns accepted that 1,500 people should be allowed to leave, Iran, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, wanted the figure to be 4,000.

Meanwhile, some 40,000 civilians and 1,500-5,000 combatants and their families remained in Aleppo, according to UN envoy Staffan de Mistura.

Several hundred people demonstrated in solidarity with the Aleppo population in the French cities of Lille, Strasbourg and Marseille on Saturday.

France calls for international observers

The UN Security Council was to meet at 11.00am New York time (1600 GMT) to discuss a French resolution calling for "neutral monitoring" of the humanitarian efforts in Aleppo.

"Our goal through this resolution is to avoid another Srebrenica in this phase immediately following the military operations," French Ambassador Francois Delattre told the AFP news agency in a reference to the massacre of thousands of Bosnian men and boys when the town fell to Bosnian Serb forces in 1995.

The French draft proposes that:

  • Civilians be guaranteed "voluntary, safe and dignified passage" from Aleppo and other areas under UN monitoring and coordination, with priority given to the wounded and most vulnerable;

  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon quickly redeploy UN humanitarian staff already in Syria to the city "to carry out adequate, neutral monitoring, direct observation and to report on evacuations from besieged parts of Aleppo and protection of civilians inside Aleppo";

  • More staff should follow and the Syrian government should allow access;

  • Ban would report to the council within five days on whether access has been granted by the Syrian government;

  •  The protection of doctors, medical workers, ambulances and hospitals, specifically the border hospitals of Atmeh, Darkoush, Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salamah, where many of the evacuees would be taken.

Assad's ally Russia has vetoed several resolution on the Security Council but French President François Hollande said this week that he "could not imagine" it would block a "humanitarian" proposal.

But Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he found elements of the French proposal "questionable", expressing doubts that the observers could be quickly redeployed.

Ban has urged Syrian parties to resume the evacuation operation and allow civilians to leave safely, saying "Aleppo is now a synonym for hell."