Several buses en route to evacuate ill and injured people from the besieged Syrian villages of al-Foua and Kefraya have been attacked and burned, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Syrian state television says.
The evacuation was part of a deal demanded by a coalition of forces fighting for the government of President Bashar al-Assad to secure safe passage for more than 40,000 people from rebel–held east Aleppo.
On Sunday some buses, as well as Red Crescent vehicles, reached the entrance to the villages in Idlib province, which are besieged by insurgents.
— Syria Direct (@SyriaDirect) December 18, 2016
Syrian state media said “armed terrorists” – a term it uses for insurgent groups fighting against Assad’s rule – attacked five buses and burned and destroyed them.
The Free Syrian Army, a nationalist opposition alliance, said the attack on the buses was carried out by individuals not affiliated to it.
Obstructing the evacuation process in this way was a “reckless” act which put the lives of thousands of trapped people in danger, it said in a statement.
Rebel officials said an angry crowd of people, possibly alongside pro-government forces, carried out the attack.
Evacuation buses burning after being attacked by rebels in Syria. pic.twitter.com/F4FxrOEBC7
— Murad Gazdiev (@MuradGazdiev) December 18, 2016
Videos broadcast on social media showed men with guns cheering and shouting “God is great” as the buses burned.
A resident in the area told Reuters it was not carried out by the group formerly known as the Nusra Front, which had previously said it had not agreed to the evacuation of the two villages.
Most of al-Foua and Kefraya’s residents are Shi’ite Muslims.
Aleppo evacuations underway
The attack does not appear to have stopped – at this stage – the evacuation of fighters and their families from the last rebel–held sector of east Aleppo.
The Aleppo evacuation ground to a halt on Friday after a disagreement between rebels and the coalition of forces fighting for Assad’s government, who wanted people to be allowed to leave the two villages.
Over 15,000 people gathered in a square in east Aleppo on Sunday to wait for buses to arrive and take them to rebel-held areas outside the city.
Many had spent the night sleeping in the streets in freezing temperatures.
— Mohammedsaeediyan (@mohammedsaeedi4) December 18, 2016
According to Syria’s al-Ikhbariya TV news, about 1200 civilians would initially be evacuated from east Aleppo and a similar number from the two villages.
Once evacuees from the villages have safely arrived in government areas, Aleppo fighters and more of their family members will be allowed to leave, in return for subsequent batches of people departing al-Foua and Kefraya, al-Ikhbariya TV reported.
The chaos surrounding the evacuation reflects the complexity of Syria’s civil war, with an array of groups and foreign interests involved on all sides.
Russia vetos UN monitoring plan
Russia says it will veto a French–drafted UN Security Council resolution to monitor the evacuation of people from Aleppo.
The draft text emphasised that the evacuations of civilians must be voluntary, and to final destinations of their choice. Protection was to have been provided to all those who left or who opted to remain.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin says: ”We cannot support it, we cannot allow it to pass because this is a disaster. But there could be another thing which could be adopted today by the Security Council which would accomplish the same goals,” he told reporters, without elaborating on Saturday.