A Christmas tale of two liberated cities, Aleppo & Mosul

Robert Bridge
Robert Bridge is an American writer and journalist. He is author of the book, ‘Midnight in the American Empire,’ released in 2013. robertvbridge@yahoo.com
A Christmas tale of two liberated cities, Aleppo & Mosul
As eyewitness reports emerge from these two war-torn cities, the humanitarian conditions in Aleppo appear to be stabilizing faster compared to Mosul. The US obsession with Syrian regime change appears to be the reason.

A scene best described as miraculous emerged from the Syrian city of Aleppo on Christmas Eve as hundreds of Christian Syrians took to the streets in celebration of the religious holiday.

Social media overflowed with pictures of children dressed up in Santa costumes, happily strolling the once fear-filled streets. Churches that months earlier had been targeted by Jabhat Al-Nusra and Islamic State militants were once again festive places of song and worship.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Merry Christmas from Syria’s Aleppo, free of ISIS and Al-Qaeda jihadists. A beautiful sight that won’t be seen on mainstream media.

Beyond all odds, joy and celebration have conquered the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty that pervaded this city for many months during its captivity by IS forces. Even now, sporadic violence occasionally raises its head. Just days before the Christmas celebrations a neighborhood was shelled by anti-government forces. Two girls, age six and 13, were killed in the attacks.

In December 2016, after years of enduring a bitter siege, Aleppo was freed by the combined military forces of Syria, Russia, and Iran. Following the liberation, Russia was greeted with an outpouring of gratitude from the inhabitants of the city. And it certainly did not hurt Russia’s campaign that it provided a significant amount of humanitarian aid to citizens of Aleppo.

After the city was cleared of the rebel militants, the Russian Center for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides in Syria delivered nearly 35 tons of humanitarian aid – which included hot meals, food packages, warm clothes for children, blankets, and first aid – to the refugees of the al-Mahaledzh camp in eastern Aleppo. The importance of such assistance to people who have lost everything from the deprivations of war cannot be overestimated.

While the city will require many years of rebuilding, it looks as though the citizens of Aleppo have passed through the darkest hour of their plight. The same, however, cannot be said for their fellow war victims in Mosul, Iraq.

Not so merry Mosul

Judging by live, on-the-ground reporting from Mosul, this Iraqi city is not faring nearly as well as its Syrian counterpart. Liberated from Islamic State forces six months ago, much of the city remains uninhabitable following a nine-month siege by Iraqi troops supported by the US-led coalition.

An RT crew paid a visit to Mosul this month and what they found was not encouraging.

Many of those who have returned to the city (or never left) are forced to borrow money to feed their families. Others were filmed digging through the corpse-strewn, bomb-littered ruins to salvage material to sell, such as scrap metal.

One boy, aged 11, told the RT crew through tears that this was his daily task.

According to RT correspondent Murat Gazdiev, the ancient city has been turned into a “dead and miserable place,” where there is “more rubble than buildings.” Nevertheless, the residents of the city are beginning to return, but most often “not out of choice.”

They literally have nowhere else to go.

A middle-aged man, one of many people interviewed on the streets of Mosul, told RT: “My home is destroyed. My shop is destroyed. I’m borrowing money just to feed my family. I’m going to sell my car tomorrow to buy food. Why is it like this? Where are the countries that said they would support us?

The question is not an idle one. After all, it has been estimated that the US-led coalition forces spent tens of thousands of dollars per airstrike – hundreds and hundreds in the city of Mosul alone (The total cost for the US war in Syria and Iraq, from August 2014 to present, exceeds 14.3 billion US dollars, with a daily average of about 13.6 million).

The money from just a few airstrikes could feed all the civilians in this embattled Iraqi city for months. Yet the much-anticipated food shipments have not arrived, while residents are in a daily race against disease, dehydration, and starvation.

According to RT’s exclusive report, the local Mosul garrison, called ‘Division Five,’ shares its food with the locals, while some NGOs showed up and handed out blankets. But that has been the extent of the humanitarian assistance.

“The world has forgotten Mosul. It’s out of fashion, no longer trending. And locals have a well-founded suspicion that this was never about saving them,” Gazdiev commented.

Meanwhile, there are still some remnants of IS fighters left in the city, which makes the daily necessity of finding food and water even more of a challenge. Indeed, half a year after declaring the city liberated, the RT crew had to be escorted around the town by a soldier with his pistol always drawn and cocked.

At this point, there emerges an obvious question: Why the dramatic difference in conditions between these two places? Why does it seem that Aleppo is recovering not only at a much faster pace, but is also receiving a massive amount of humanitarian aid from Russia?

The answer, I believe, can be found in how both Russia and the US-led coalition approached their respective missions. First, Russia did not suddenly appear in Syria as an invader, as the United States did in Iraq in 2003 when it – wrongly – accused Saddam Hussein of harboring weapons of mass destruction. Syrian President Bashar Assad extended a formal invitation to President Putin to assist his country in routing the terrorist invader.

Second, it was arguably never the intention of the US-led coalition to eliminate Islamic State. This much was admitted in a 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency document released by Judicial Watch. The DIA predicted the rise of Islamic State, yet did not categorize the group as an enemy. In fact, it expressed outright support for the emergence of the group.

According to the report: “…There is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime…”

In other words, the US-led forces planned for their mercenaries to supplant Assad in Damascus.

This revelation seems to support the Russian Defense Ministry’s claim the US-backed forces in September were facilitating the safe retreat of ISIS fighters out of Iraq and into Syria.

“The US-led coalition, which is simulating the fight against ISIS, primarily in Iraq, sees all this but continues to supposedly actively fight against ISIS, for some reason in Syria,”said Major General Igor Konashenkov.

There is a strong temptation here to say the US-led forces, more concerned about moving its terrorist chess pieces to checkmate President Assad, were not remotely interested in improving the plight of Iraqi and Syrian citizens. Their sole and very cynical interest was gaining a strategic advantage in the region with the help of renegade militants.

All things considered, the dramatically different Christmas pictures coming out of Aleppo and Mosul points to precisely such a grim conclusion.

The people of Mosul are paying the price for such folly.

@Robert_Bridge

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Courtesy: RT

‘ISIS trapped & going to die’: US reaffirms rules of engagement in Mosul

As the fighting in Mosul rages on, the number of civilian casualties and displacements have grown significantly. While vowing to avoid civilian casualties by all means, the US is adamantly helping to maintain the siege until every single jihadist dies there.

Air strikes targeting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) fighters in the Iraqi city of Mosul are frequently killing civilians, a number of residents who lost loved ones have been telling RT recently. While the Islamic State is known to use men, women, and children as human shields in Mosul, the city’s residents have also accused the coalition of indiscriminate bombing.

READ MORE: ‘They were bombing randomly’: Mosul civilians doubt coalition’s careful targeting claims

On Sunday, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter Islamic State fighters, Brett McGurk bluntly warned that any remaining jihadists in Mosul will be killed inside the besieged city.

“ISIS is trapped. … Any of the fighters left in Mosul, they’re going to die there,” McGurk said in a conference in Baghdad. “So we are very committed to not just defeating them in Mosul, but making sure these guys cannot escape.”

Following McGurk’s remarks which coincides with reports of growing civilian casualties, RT asked the US State Department if Washington is still committed to its earlier pledge to do everything possible to spare civilian lives across Iraq.

In November, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the US takes “every effort” and “every precaution to avoid civilian casualties” across Iraq event to the point where the US will call off a strike “against known enemy targets because they put civilians at risk.”

When asked again on Monday by RT’s correspondent Gayane Chichakyan if the rules of engagement have changed in any way for the Mosul operation, Toner replied: “they [rules of engagement] have not changed.”

“We try to have the best intelligence and information available that we can to avoid any civilian casualties. And again, we stand – I stand by those comments that we will sometimes, if we have information that indicates that there’s civilians nearby or civilians in a place, then we will refrain from acting,” Toner noted.

The spokesman said that if the reported allegations of strikes targeting civilians are credible, “that would need to be investigated, looked into, and… if changes need to be made in terms of targeting, then that’s something that Department of Defense would look at.”

Since October 2016, Mosul has been besieged by Iraqi troops, backed by Kurdish Peshmerga forces, Shiite militias, and the US-led coalition, trying to drive Islamic State out of the city.

In January, the eastern half of Mosul was recaptured and operations to liberate the western side are ongoing. About one-third of Western Mosul has so far been liberated.

While the civilian death toll is impossible to calculate amid the ongoing battle for Iraq’s second largest city, Sheikh Khamis Khanjar, the founder of the Office of the Sunni Arab Representative for Iraq, said at least 3,500 civilians have been killed in the battle for Mosul.

Khanjar noted that most casualties are a result of US air strikes and “indiscriminate” shelling of crowded neighborhoods by the US-trained elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) forces, Reuters reported. According to Khanjar, some 850,000 people are still believed to be living in Mosul.

‘Worse number of airstrike casualties in than during , media fails to cover‘ – monitor https://on.rt.com/85nt 

Photo published for ‘Worse number of airstrike casualties in Mosul than during Aleppo, media fails to cover‘ – monitor...

‘Worse number of airstrike casualties in Mosul than during Aleppo, media fails to cover‘ – monitor…

The number of civilian casualties from airstrikes by the US-led coalition in the Iraqi city of Mosul exceeds the numbers reported by the media during the operation to retake Aleppo by Syrian and…

rt.com

The London-based Airwars monitoring group had earlier in the day assessed that the number of civilian casualties in Mosul far exceeded the numbers reported by the media during the operation to retake Aleppo by Syrian and Russian forces.

“Since the assault, first on east Mosul and then west Mosul began, we have seen just a remarkable change at Mosul, moving from tens of civilians reported killed every week or even every month, to hundreds reported killed every week now by coalition airstrikes,” Airwars director Chris Woods told RT’s Ruptly video agency.

In addition to the mounting civilian death toll, more than 200,000 refugees have fled Mosul since last October, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Syria war: Russia and China veto sanctions

 

Related Topics

A UN chemical weapons expert, wearing a gas mask, holds a bag containing samples from a site of an alleged chemical weapons attackImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionUN investigations have said that the Syrian government carried out three chemical weapons attacks

Russia and China have vetoed a UN resolution to impose sanctions on Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons.

It is the seventh time Russia has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to protect the Syrian government.

China has also vetoed six Security Council resolutions on Syria since the civil war began in 2011.

Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under an agreement negotiated between Russia and the US.

What is Syria accused of?

The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad is accused of carrying out chemical attacks on its own civilians – a charge it denies.

However, investigations by the UN and international chemical weapons watchdog have found that Syrian government forces carried out three chemical weapons attacks in 2014 and 2015.

A boy who activists say was affected by a gas attack receives treatment at Bab al-Hawa hospitalImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionChlorine irritates people’s eyes and skin and can burn the lungs

The reports said that Syrian air force helicopters had dropped chlorine gas on rebel-held areas, twice in March 2015 and once in April 2014.

The use of chlorine as a weapon is prohibited under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention.

Islamic State (IS) militants had also used sulphur-mustard gas in an attack, the watchdog found.


Read more:

Syria blamed for chemical weapons attack

Why is Russia engaged in Aleppo?

Syria: The story of the conflict


What did the UN resolution say?

Tuesday’s resolution had been drafted by the US, the UK and France.

It would have banned the sale of helicopters to Syria and would have led to sanctions against 11 Syrian commanders or officials, and 10 groups linked to the chemical attacks.

Nine Security Council members supported the resolution, while three – China, Russia and Bolivia – voted against it.

The final three members – Egypt, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia – abstained.

Russian Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Vladimir Safronkov raises his arm to vote against a United Nations Security Council resolutionImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionRussia vetoed the resolution, saying the vote was “based on the anti-regime doctrine of western states”

A Security Council resolution needs nine votes in support, and no vetoes from the five permanent members (the US, France, Russia, UK and China) in order to pass.

Why did Russia and China veto the resolution?

Russian President Vladimir Putin had said sanctions against Syria would be “totally inappropriate”, saying “it would only hurt or undermine confidence” in peace talks.

Moscow has long-standing links to Syria, with many Syrian military officers trained and equipped by Russia.

An undated handout photo from the Russian military appears to show Russian troops in an armoured vehicle in Aleppo, SyriaImage copyrightAP
Image captionRussia has had troops deployed in Syria

Moscow says its military and political support for the Syrian government has helped the fight against IS militants.

But Western critics accuse Moscow of targeting opposition groups backed by the West.

Meanwhile, China’s UN ambassador, Liu Jieyi, said Beijing opposed the use of chemical weapons but that it was too soon to impose sanctions as investigations were still ongoing.

Liu Jieyi at the United NationsImage copyrightAP
Image captionMr Liu said it was too early to reach a final conclusion on who carried out the chemical attacks

China has said in the past that it has a long-standing policy of non-intervention in other countries’ affairs.

Analysts say China may be worried that some of its Muslim populations in western Xinjiang have joined militant groups fighting in Syria.

China’s stake in the Syria stand-off

What do sanctions supporters say?

Nikki Haley at the UNImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThe US has accused Russia of “babysitting” the Syrian government

The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said: “It is a sad day on the Security Council when members start making excuses for other member states killing their own people.

“They put their friends in the Assad regime ahead of our global security… the world is definitely a more dangerous place.”

UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said: “Not taking action against chemical weapons’ use undermines confidence in the international community’s ability to tackle flagrant violations of international law – and undermines the trust of Syrians affected by these horrific attacks.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Russia bore a “heavy responsibility toward the Syrian people and humanity as a whole”.

As civilian evacuation ends, Syrian army ‘reclaims’ Aleppo

The evacuation of eastern Aleppo has been completed, according to state media. Within minutes of the news, President Bashar al-Assad’s military said it had retaken the war-torn city.

Syrien Aleppo Evakuierung (picture-alliance/Photoshot)

The Syrian army said on Thursday the evacuation brings “the return of security to Aleppo,” emphasizing that it had also eradicated the last of the rebel fighters. The city had been divided between government and rebel forces since 2012. Syrian state TV said the army was preparing a statement declaring “victory in Aleppo.”

Syrian state TV reported the last convoy had left east Aleppo. “The last four buses carrying terrorists and their families arrived in Ramussa,” said the TV channel. The Syrian government refers to rebels as terrorists. Ramussa is a government-controlled district south of Aleppo. An official with the rebel group Ahrar al-Sham confirmed the convoy departed “the rebel-controlled area.”

Approximately 34,000 people have fled rebel-held eastern Aleppo during the past week after rebel fighters agreed to cede the city to Syria’s military forces.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is aiding the evacuation, said dozens of buses and smaller vehicles were expected to transport rebel fighters and civilians out of the city on Thursday, according to Ingy Sedky, a spokeswoman for the ICRC in Syria.

“We expect today to be the last convoys, the operation will continue all day long and during the night,” she said. “If it goes smoothly the evacuation will end tonight.”

The sick and critically wounded were among those who had been evacuated already, according to the ICRC.

Some 400 vehicles, including trucks and cars, arrived overnight in Khan al-Assal, the staging ground where evacuees from Aleppo arrive after leaving the city, according to Ahmad al-Dbis, who heads a team of doctors and volunteers who are coordinating the evacuations.

Jan Egeland, who chairs the UN taskforce for humanitarian access in Syria, hailed the evacuation, saying it amounted to lives being saved in eastern Aleppo.

“This operation saved a lot of lives, means the end of the battle proved to be less cruel than it could have been,” Egeland said.

Since government forces laid siege to Aleppo, an estimated 31,000 people have been killed in the Syrian city, according to independent monitors.

UN envoy for Syria Steffan de Mistura hinted that the evacuation may have only postponed the onslaught against rebels. “Many of them have gone to Idlib, which could be the next Aleppo,” de Mistura said.

Watch video01:43

Evacuation of Aleppo nears completion

A slow process

One rebel official said a heavy snowstorm in northern Syria and the sheer numbers of civilians still remaining were among the factors that slowed down the evacuation process.

“The numbers of civilians, their cars alongside and of course the weather all are making the evacuation slow,” said Munir al-Sayal, head of the political wing of the Ahrar al Sham rebel group.

Most of the evacuees have headed for territory to the west of the city still under the control of Syrian rebels, who are suffering their biggest defeat in more than five years of civil war after agreeing to withdraw from Aleppo.

The last evacuees are believed to be fighters and their families – more than 4,000 of them left the city overnight.

President Bashar al-Assad’s government is waiting for the end of the evacuations so it can declare the completion of the offensive to recapture what had long been a rebel stronghold. Assad called regaining control of Aleppo a victory for his Russian and Iranian allies as much as for his own country.

More than 300,000 people have been killed and half the population displaced since the conflict erupted in 2011, when government forces launched a brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters calling for Assad to step down.

Watch video01:43

Aleppo protests around the world

ls,bik/sms (Reuters, AFP)

DW RECOMMENDS

AUDIOS AND VIDEOS ON THE TOPIC

Aleppo battle: Syrian city ‘back under government control’

 

Related Topics

Syrian rebel fighters, arrive in the opposition-controlled Khan al-Assal region, west of Aleppo after being evacuated from the embattled cityImage copyrightAFP
Image captionMore than 34,000 people have been evacuated since last Thursday

The Syrian army says it has retaken control of the besieged city of Aleppo, following the evacuation of the last group of rebel fighters.

A UN official said earlier that more than 34,000 civilians and rebels had been removed since last Thursday.

The evacuees have been taken to rebel-held territory in the countryside west of Aleppo and in Idlib province.

This is the biggest victory for President Bashar al-Assad since the uprising against him began in 2011.

The evacuation of the opposition-held part of eastern Aleppo was part of a deal brokered by Russia and Turkey.

In return, residents of the government-controlled towns of Foah and Kefraya in Idlib province, besieged by rebels, would also be removed.

Heavy snow, strong winds and the poor state of vehicles had slowed the evacuation, Red Cross officials said. Thousands of people were forced to wait for hours in sub-zero temperatures with little food or drink.

‘Crushing blow’

In a statement on Syrian TV, the army announced the “return of security to Aleppo”.

Media captionAleppo “tweeting girl” Bana Alabed tells of “heavy suffocating smoke”

“This victory represents a strategic change and a turning point in the war against terrorism on the one hand and a crushing blow to the terrorists’ project and their supporters on the other hand,” it said. The government usually refers to the rebels as “terrorists”.

The statement said the victory was a further incentive for the army to carry on fighting to “eradicate terrorism and restore security and stability to every span on the homeland”.

Ahmed Qorra Ali, part of the rebel group Ahrar al-Sham, told AFP that “the last convoy has left the rebel-controlled area”.


Aleppo: Before and after the battle

INTERACTIVE

2016

View from the citadel across the devastated city

2008

View from the Citadel of people eating at restaurants


Aleppo was once Syria’s largest city and its commercial and industrial hub before the uprising against Mr Assad began in 2011.

For much of the past four years it was divided roughly in two, with the government controlling the western half and rebels the east.

Troops finally broke the deadlock this year with the help of Iranian-backed militias and Russian air strikes, reinstating a siege on the east in early September.

After breaking through the rebels’ defensive lines in mid-November, they quickly advanced and had seized all but 2.6 sq km (1 sq mile) by the time a ceasefire was brokered.

Map

Earlier, Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that its warplanes had carried out 18,800 sorties since launching an air campaign against Mr Assad’s opponents in September 2015.

In total, they had “liquidated 725 training camps, 405 weapon factories and workshops, 1,500 pieces of terrorist equipment, and 35,000 fighters”, he said.

Human rights groups have accused the Russian and Syrian air forces of committing war crimes in Aleppo, alleging that they killed hundreds of civilians this September and October alone, deliberately targeted medical facilities, and used indiscriminate weapons such as cluster and incendiary munitions.

UN Security Council unanimously backs sending monitors to Aleppo

The UN Security Council has voted unanimously to approve a joint text from France and Russia for UN observers to monitor the evacuation of civilians from Aleppo. Tens of thousands have left since the weekend.

Syrien Evakuierung aus Aleppo (picture alliance/dpa/EPA/STR)

The vote in the United Nations Security Council was passed unanimously on Monday after a delay following a threat from Russia to veto the original resolution proposed by France. The measure tasks the United Nations with carrying out “adequate, neutral monitoring and direct observation on evacuations from eastern Aleppo and other districts of the city.”

A compromise was reached between France and Russia on the wording of the resolution so that it would allow the monitors to observe after consultations with “interested parties.” The United States said it had been expected to pass unanimously.

The resolution may allow a number of groups on the ground, including Syrian soldiers and the Shiite militias fighting alongside them, as well as fighters from an array of rebel groups, including extremists, to block access to areas they control.

French Ambassador Francois Delattre said the international presence would prevent Aleppo from turning into another Srebrenica, referring to the 1995 massacre in Bosnia. “This is a starting point,” Delattre told reporters. “We will be extremely attentive, extremely vigilant.”

Aleppo evacuation

After waiting in below-freezing temperatures and wet, wintry conditions, thousands of civilians have been evacuated out of eastern Aleppo in Syria.

Convoys of buses reached rebel-held areas to the west of the city, according to a UN official and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitor based in the UK. Around 5,000 people traveled in 75 buses out of Aleppo on Monday, according to Ingy Sedky, spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said some 20,000 civilians had been evacuated from Aleppo so far. The United Nations said nearly 50 children, some critically injured, had been rescued from eastern Aleppo, where they had been trapped in an orphanage.

Ahmad al-Dbis, who heads a team of doctors and volunteers coordinating evacuations, said the people were in “a very bad state after waiting for more than 16 hours” at a regime checkpoint without being allowed off the buses.

“Complex evacuations from East Aleppo and Foua & Kefraya now in full swing. More than 900 buses needed to evacuate all. We must not fail,” Jan Egeland, who chairs the United Nations aid task force in Syria, reported via social media.

According to the ICRC and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, around 500 people left in a dawn convoy from Foua and Kafraya, loyalist villages in the mostly rebel-held Idlib province, which have been under siege by extremists for almost two years.

Among those evacuated from eastern Aleppo to a rebel-held area farther west was 7-year-old Bana al-Abed, whose Twitter posts with her mother throughout the siege by government forces helped draw attention to the plight of civilians.

Russia and Iran discuss political process

The foreign and defense ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey are to hold talks in Moscow on Tuesday aimed at giving fresh impetus for a resolution in Aleppo.

On Monday, the Kremlin issued a statement indicating that President Vladimir Putin had spoken with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and discussed the situation in Syria. The call was at Iran’s initiative, according to the Kremlin. The Russian president had said it was important to launch a genuine political process for Syria as soon as possible, according to the Kremlin.

Putin said he hoped the two could work together for a resolution to the Syria crisis as soon as possible.

The Russian president has previously said he wanted to see new Syrian peace talks involving the Syrian government and the opposition. He is trying to build support for the talks, proposing they take place in Kazakhstan.

jm/rc (Reuters, AP)

DW RECOMMENDS

Aleppo battle: Hundreds leave Syria city as evacuations resume

Related Topics

Buses drive through the Syrian government-controlled crossing of Ramoussah, on the southern outskirts of Aleppo, on 18 December 2016Image copyrightAFP
Image captionSyrian state media said buses entered eastern Aleppo in the middle of Sunday but did not leave for many hours

Evacuations have resumed from east Aleppo, with buses and ambulances leaving rebel areas of the Syrian city, a UN official says.

At least 350 people reportedly left rebel enclaves in convoys late on Sunday, towards government territory.

Earlier, buses sent to take people out of government-controlled areas, besieged by rebels, were set alight, halting the latest evacuation deal.

Thousands are waiting to leave east Aleppo in desperate conditions.

The UN Security Council is said to have agreed a compromise to allow UN monitoring of the operation. Russia earlier rejected a French-drafted plan to send UN officials to east Aleppo as “a disaster”.

“We expect to vote unanimously for this text,” said US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power.

The Security Council meeting is due to start at 09:00 (14:00 GMT) in New York.

Initial efforts to evacuate the last rebel-held enclaves in the city collapsed on Friday, leaving civilians stranded at various points along the route out without access to food or shelter. Bombardment of east Aleppo has left it virtually without medical facilities.

Despite further setbacks on Sunday, buses and ambulances began moving out of the area after nightfall.

“Evacuations are on,” the UN official said in an email message to Reuters news agency, adding that the first people left east Aleppo at around 23:00 local time (21:00 GMT).

Five buses carrying evacuees arrived in rebel-held Khan al-Assal, AFP news agency quoted Ahmad al-Dbis, who heads a team of doctors coordinating evacuations to the town, as saying.

From Khan al-Assal, the evacuees are expected to travel to government held parts of Aleppo and Idlib provinces.

Media captionNurses are forced to perform a Caesarean in place of surgeons in Aleppo

Pro-government forces previously demanded that people must be allowed to leave the mainly Shia villages of Foah and Kefraya in Idlib province, besieged by rebels, in order for the evacuation of east Aleppo to restart.

Some 1,200 people were due to be taken out of the former rebel enclave in return for a similar number moved out of the two government-held villages, Foah and Kefraya.

However, it is not thought any of the some 2,000 people believed to live in the two villages left on Sunday.

Media captionThe convoy of buses was travelling to the two government-held villages of Foah and Kefraya

Earlier on Sunday, armed men set fire to at least five buses that were about to transport the sick and injured from the villages.

Several reports said the Jabhat Fatah al-Sham rebel group, formerly al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, was responsible. But Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group fighting alongside Syria’s government, said the blaze started during fighting between the jihadist Fatah al-Sham and another Islamist rebel group that supported the evacuations.

The jihadist groups have not commented on the attack.

However, the Free Syrian Army, a more moderate rebel faction, condemned it as a “reckless act endangering the lives of nearly 50,000 people” in east Aleppo.

Among the people waiting to leave eastern Aleppo are sick and wounded children, said the children’s charity Unicef.

Some young children have been forced to leave without their parents, the charity said, and hundreds of vulnerable children remain trapped.

Who are Jabhat Fateh al-Sham?

Map