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Final Aleppo Evacuations Resume

  • VOA News

Syrians evacuated from the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo during the cease-fire arrive at a refugee camp in Rashidin, near Idlib, Syria, Dec. 20, 2016.

The final evacuations of rebels and civilians from the northern city of Aleppo have resumed after being delayed for one day. "The buses are now moving again from east Aleppo," a U.N. official in Syria told Reuters.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 60 buses were ready to evacuate 3,000 people from freezing temperatures in eastern Aleppo in what would be the final step of rebels leaving the part of Aleppo they seized four years ago. But the buses were held up due to a last-minute snag in the evacuation agreement.

The complete evacuation of the rebel-held enclave will give full control of Aleppo to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a milestone in the nearly six-year old civil war.

WATCH: Raw footage of Aleppo bus evacuations

The evacuations are being conducted under an agreement negotiated by Russia and Turkey that also called for people to leave two villages in Idlib province that have been under rebel siege.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday more than 37,000 people had been evacuated from Aleppo, and the goal was to have all the remaining evacuations completed by Wednesday.

Syrians evacuated from the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo during the cease-fire arrive at a refugee camp in Rashidin, near Idlib, Syria, Dec. 20, 2016.

Syrians evacuated from the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo during the cease-fire arrive at a refugee camp in Rashidin, near Idlib, Syria, Dec. 20, 2016.

After a meeting in Moscow among the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters the three nations used their influence to force the evacuation, suggesting they have become the main powerbrokers in Syria's conflict.

The foreign ministers drafted a proposal that Russia said amounts to a blueprint for a cease-fire in Syria and potentially an end to the war. The urgency for Russia intensified after its ambassador to Turkey was assassinated Monday in Ankara by a man shouting "Don't forget Aleppo."

Rebel fighters and civilians wait near damaged buildings to be evacuated from a rebel-held sector of eastern Aleppo, Dec. 18, 2016.

Rebel fighters and civilians wait near damaged buildings to be evacuated from a rebel-held sector of eastern Aleppo, Dec. 18, 2016.

Broad cease-fire sought

The foreign ministers agreed to guarantee peace talks and to expand the cease-fire throughout Syria. But the broader cease-fire would exclude the militant groups Islamic State, the Fatah al-Sham Front and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which supports the Syrian government.

"Iran, Russia and Turkey are ready to assist in preparing the agreement in the making between the Syrian government and the opposition and to become its guarantor," Lavrov said in a joint statement from the three countries.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israel would consider bringing wounded refugees from Aleppo to Israeli hospitals for treatment. "I've asked the foreign ministry to seek ways to expand our medical assistance to the civilian causalities of the Syrian tragedy, specifically in Aleppo." Israel has treated many wounded in the Syrian civil war over the past three years, although Israel and Syria are formally in a state of war.

More than 70 percent of the buildings in the western Aleppo countryside have been destroyed, and there is an acute shortage of food and medical supplies there too, according to opposition leaders and activists.

A rebel fighter stands with his weapon near evacuees from the Shi'ite Muslim villages of al-Foua and Kefraya as they ride buses in insurgent-held al-Rashideen, Syria, Dec. 20, 2016.

A rebel fighter stands with his weapon near evacuees from the Shi'ite Muslim villages of al-Foua and Kefraya as they ride buses in insurgent-held al-Rashideen, Syria, Dec. 20, 2016.

U.N. monitors

Meanwhile, the United Nations on Wednesday released its report into a deadly attack on an aid convoy. The inquiry found that the convoy had been attacked in an airstrike, but it could not conclude if it was a "deliberate" hit or who was responsible.

The attack in September killed at least 10 people and injured 22 others at Urem al-Kubra near Aleppo. It also destroyed 17 aid trucks.

The inquiry found that only aircraft belonging to the Syrian government, Russia and the U.S.-backed coalition were capable of the attack, not rebel forces.

U.S. officials believe the Russians were responsible but Moscow has denied any involvement.

Also Wednesday, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to set up a panel to investigate and gather evidence of possible war crimes in Syria.

While human rights groups applauded the move, Syria and its main ally Russia denounced it. Syria's ambassador to the U.N., Bashar Jafaari, called it a "flagrant interference in the internal affairs of a U.N.-member state."

VOA’s Jamie Dettmer contributed to this report.

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