Aleppo civilians wait in the cold after evacuation buses are burned

CAIRO — Would-be evacuees from Aleppo spent most of Sunday waiting in near-freezing weather after their departure was stopped by an attack on buses that were to evacuate injured people from two government-held villages.

Video showed a line of buses in flames. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said the buses appeared to have been burned by supporters of the al-Qaida-linked Fath al-Sham Front.

A Syrian military official said late Sunday that the evacuation of eastern Aleppo residents and rebel fighters had been suspended until injured people were allowed to leave the government-held villages of Foua and Kefraya.

Activists inside the besieged Aleppo enclave said they had received messages from evacuees on buses that left in the early afternoon, saying they were trapped in a regime-held area in the south of the city without food or water as temperatures dropped to freezing.

“We are trapped inside the buses since 1:30 pm and we don’t know what is happening,” one east Aleppo activist wrote on Twitter.

The buses were heading back into eastern Aleppo and would be able to leave again once the situation in the villages was resolved, said the military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The evacuations from the devastated enclave were suspended Friday after elements on the government side insisted on a parallel evacuation of injured people, women and children from the two villages, which are besieged by hard-line Islamist rebels.

About 5,500 civilians and 3,000 fighters left the enclave under the deal before it broke down Friday, according to the observatory.

Sunday, it appeared to be the turn of opposition hard-liners to sabotage the deal. Six of the buses heading to Kefraya and Foua were torched.

A bus driver was killed in the attack and buses were shelled, the head of the Aleppo public transport board said.

Eastern Aleppo’s remaining civilians and fighters, many of whom say they fear torture or death if they fall into government hands, were being bused out under a deal brokered by Russia and Turkey after government forces broke the enclave’s defenses in November.

The evacuation delay as the United Nations Security Council postponed a vote on the deployment of observers to Aleppo until Monday.

Russia, a backer of the Syrian government and one of the five countries with veto power on the council, opposed the measure.

“We cannot support it. We cannot allow it to pass because this is a disaster,” Vitaly Churkin, Russian ambassador to the UN, said ahead of a three-hour closed-door meeting Sunday.

Churkin said his country had no problem with observers, but said they must be better trained and the procedure for deploying them better organized.

Russia submitted its own resolution on Syria, several U.N. diplomats said after the meeting ended.

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