Syria: UN agrees on sending observers to Aleppo

A Syrian boy with his belongings in the rubble of his home in Aleppo's Al-Arkoub neighborhood on Saturday

the United Nations Security Council on Monday voted to quickly deploy UN observers to Aleppo to monitor evacuations and report on the fate of civilians who remain in the besieged city.

After months of crippling siege, starvation policy, daily bombardment, fierce clashes and bloody massacres the Assad regime and its allies were able to oblige the rebels in Aleppo to surrender and make an agreement to leave the area they have been holding since 2012 after losing more than 90% of it.

The ceasefire agreement was a result of talks between Russia and Turkey.

As part of an agreement between Turkey and Russia, tens of thousands of rebels and civilians were supposed to be evacuated from eastern Aleppo to rebel-held Idlib, allowing the Assad regime to take full control of the city after years of fighting.

By taking full control of Aleppo, Assad has proved the power of his military coalition, aided by Russia’s air force and an array of Shi’ite militias backed by Iran after his rule was close to ending after major losses in 2015.

However, the evacuation deal was breached many times by the Iranian-backed militias, pushing the UN to vote on the observers deploy to Aleppo, to ensure the implementation of the agreement.

The UN resolution for Aleppo

The council unanimously adopted the French-drafted resolution that marks the first show of unity in months among world powers towards the Syrian crisis.

The UN resolution calls for safe evacuations, “immediate and unconditional” access to humanitarian aid, and protection of medical facilities and personnel.

The resolution stressed “the importance to ensure the voluntary, safe and dignified passage of all civilians from the eastern districts of AIeppo or other areas, under the monitoring of and coordination by the United Nations and other relevant institutions, to a destination of their choice.”

The plan also demanded the UN be allowed access to make sure humanitarian aid reaches those in Aleppo who most need it.

The UN plan demanded too”that all parties allow complete, immediate, unconditional, safe and unhindered access for the United Nations and its implementing partners, in order to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches people through the most direct route in order to meet basic needs.”

The plan marks a breakthrough for the UN Security Council, which has come under criticism for failing to find a political solution to Syria’s brutal war that has killed at least 400,000 people. The council has failed to even agree on days-long ceasefires.

“For the first time in numerous attempts to get unanimity on the situation on Aleppo, all of the 15 UN Security Council members have supported this resolution to send UN monitors in Aleppo,” a journalist said.

Russia, which has supported Assad with airstrikes since September 2015, has used its veto power as a permanent member of the Security Council six times to shoot down UN resolutions on the conflict, while China has vetoed five of those six.

However, Syria’s UN ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, decried the resolution. He said that while Syria does not oppose UN Security Council resolutions that respect international humanitarian law, the resolution was “just another part of the continued propaganda against Syria and its fight against terrorists”.

He added that “the last terrorists in some districts of the eastern part of Aleppo are evacuating their strongholds and Aleppo this evening will be clean”.

This vote came as 5,000 civilians left the besieged districts in 75 buses on Monday, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Turkey said that about 20,000 people have been evacuated from eastern Aleppo since the ceasefire started,

Breaches of the ceasefire agreement

The UN voted on the new resolution after the Russian-Turkish ceasefire agreement was  breached many times by the Iran-backed Shiite militias.

On Wednesday morning, buses and ambulances were brought to evacuate rebel fighters and their families – only to be turned away shortly afterward as the ceasefire fell apart and the bombardment was resumed again.

However, the bombardment stopped at night and the agreement was resumed to evacuate the rebels and civilians on Thursday.

The civilians evacuation was continued until Friday morning when the convoy was obstructed by Iranian-backed militias again, who refused the agreement and sought to force their conditions on its progress.

Iran was insisting people be allowed to leave two besieged Shi’ite villages before letting the Aleppo evacuation happen.

Four people who were part of a convoy evacuating the besieged districts of east Aleppo were killed by Syrian government forces.

Numerous rebels and east Aleppo residents shared reports and videos of people fleeing the sound of shooting, being detained and returning home badly beaten and robbed of their possessions near a checkpoint as they tried to leave the city on Friday.

A new deal was reached on Saturday to allow the civilian evacuation on Sunday, in return for evacuation of 4,000 people in the Shia-majority towns of Fua and Kefraya which are besieged by the rebels.

However, the evacuation efforts collapsed again after armed men burned five buses that were supposed to be used for the evacuation near Idlib on Sunday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the evacuation of the villages near Idlib had been postponed as a result of the incident, as well as the evacuation from Aleppo.

Iran intervention in Aleppo

The Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias have played a leading role in the siege of rebel-held Aleppo and in the Syrian army’s retaking of near full control of the city, and will not leave a “victory” like this be passed without using it to achieve their goals and changing the city’s face and increase their dominance.

“Russia has failed to restrain the sectarian Shi’ite militias in Aleppo to complete the deal and Moscow should abide by its commitments,” Sayal said.

“There are still civilians in Aleppo who need to be evacuated in harsh weather conditions and Russian statements that besieged Aleppo is empty is absolving itself from following up on the agreement,” he added.

“It’s clear the Iranians have a different opinion here … I think they believe that they are winning and must finish off the opposition, rather than allow them to leave the city alive. The Syrian regime seems to be closer to the Iranian position,” an analyst said.

The fate of rebel-held Aleppo spells the abject failure of the west’s contradictory and piecemeal policies. It is a humiliation for the UN. Its fall will be an unequivocal victory for Russian strategy, and the shameful and humiliating defeat for all those who said they stand with the civilians and left them to face annihilation including US, Turkey and all Arab states.